February 3, 2006
Drought assistance needed
By Kenneth Dierschke
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita plowed into the Gulf Coast last September and October with all the fury that an angry Mother Nature can muster. This highly "visual" destructive scenario came with full media coverage and grabbed the attention of every person in Americaand America responded, with compassion and action.
Now we have another catastrophe unfolding across a large part of the nation. A killer drought is squeezing the life out of Texas agriculture. This disaster is differentonly after weeks and months does its effect begin to become apparent. It's only when a spark bursts into flame in the tinder dry grass, consuming homes, barns, livestock and human lives, does the public hear much about it.
The fires have been graphic evidence of the drought, but the burning countryside is only one symptom of this growing catastrophe. Here in the Lone Star State, the economic impact of the drought will more than match the effects of Hurricane Rita, the category five storm that hit our Gulf Coast.
Drought is a slow motion disasterit's a slow and creeping death for plant and animal life and potentially for the agricultural industry. Each day without rainfall deepens the crisis for the farm and ranch families of Texas.
With loans due and decisions to make, options are few. A drought can reach the point where there is no living with itand no way to manage around it. With this drought, we have arrived at that point.
On Jan. 19, Gov. Rick Perry declared the entire state of Texas a disaster area. The primary benefit of that is that Texans affected by the drought may qualify for low interest loans. Well, it's better to have that option than not, and we appreciate the Governor's efforts.
However, energy prices are through the roof and many farmers have few prospects of making a crop at all. Ranchers are spending far too much to preserve their herds. Under this scenario, the last thing many of our members can stand is more debt, even with low interest rates.
Farmers and ranchers in the Rio Grande Valley will make the decision to plant or not in a couple of weeks. Figuratively speaking, we've got a series of "alarm clocks" set and strung out across the state of Texas. As the planting season moves north, those alarms will begin to go off. There is a point in time beyond which nothing can be planted. If it does not rain before that time, there will be little opportunity to make a crop this year.
I know that the victims of last fall's hurricane are in dire need of assistance, and it's proper that our people and our government assist in the rebuilding efforts. Farm Bureau supported efforts to rebuild after the hurricanes. Real human needs are being met, as they should be. In our view, what our government has done in responding to hurricane victims is right, but now Congress and USDA also should take proactive steps to alleviate the effects of this drought.
All of us in agriculture know how to endure. But, it is getting more difficult than in the past due to the high input costs we have as producers. It is right that the federal government take steps to protect agriculture from the consequences of a natural disaster beyond its control.
Let's hope this happens. Until then, don't forget to pray for rain.