Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack opened the first of four scheduled regional drought workshops Oct. 9 by listing the programs USDA and other federal agencies have made available to producers. But those efforts, while providing some immediate aid, are hampered by the failure of Congress to pass a new five-year farm bill.
"We don't have the financial assistance we had last year to help livestock producers because provisions expired with the existing farm bill Sept. 30, or were not continued by Congress earlier," Vilsack said. "Our job would be easier if Congress would pass a farm bill after the elections."
During the day-long event in Omaha, Vilsack, other cabinet officials, Extension personnel from several states, local and state agency and farm groups sought to identify solutions to address the current drought, which speakers called the worst since the 1930s. Much of the discussion focused on the severe impacts of the drought.
Two-thirds of the counties in the continental United States have been designated as disaster areas due to the drought, Vilsack said. In Nebraska, 98% of the counties are in the top two categories of drought severity, as shown on the U.S. Drought Monitor map, according to Greg Ibach, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
Dryland crop producers felt the impact in reduced yield or, in some cases, none at all, but crop insurance served as a safety net for those producers. While irrigated crops in Nebraska fared much better, energy costs for pumping water soared.
Three additional drought workshops are planned—in Colorado, Arkansas and Ohio. The purpose, he said, is to identify resources from all levels of government that can provide assistance to farmers and rural communities.
Most speakers agreed that livestock producers are suffering the harshest impacts as a result of dramatically reduced rangeland/pasture grass production and higher feed costs.