Drought Tour Sees Grim Reality

Drought Tour Sees Grim Reality

Sen. Pat Roberts tour through south-central Kansas shows staggering impact of drought on economy.

There's a lot of talk in Washington, D.C., about eliminating farm subsidies just as the 2012 Farm Bill hearings begin.

On Wednesday, Sen. Pat Roberts took a tour bus of area farmers, press representatives and local and state government officials through a hard-hit area of Reno and Kingman counties in south central Kansas.

The view from the window was not pretty.

Even corn and sorghum under irrigation is being chopped for silage as drought, temperatures in the 100s and winds in the 20 mph range continue day after day. Losses already are estimated at $1.6 billion.

WELCOME ABOARD: Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, left, welcomes his hostess, Cassondra Basinger, aboard the bus for a tour of drought-stricken Reno and Kingman counties.

State climatologist Mary Knapp was on the bus. She told tour participants that the current weather is likely to continue two, three or four more years unless some major change in the prevailing weather pattern occurs.

She said the summer of 2011 is now the hottest – and driest – on record, surpassing the 1930s, 1950s and most likely, the blistering summer of 1980 as a 100-plus heat wave is forecast to continue. The hope for a break, she said, will be a change in weather pattern that moves moisture inland from the Gulf of Mexico – something that just hasn't happened in 2011, leaving most of the southern U.S. in extreme drought.

The temperature stood at 107 degrees when the bus tour ended. Rain, other than pop-up, scattered thunderstorms related to extreme heat, is not in the forecast.

Roberts fielded questions from farmers concerned about what will emerge in the 2012 Farm Bill and what kind of emergency relief, including haying and grazing of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, might be allowed to help farmers make it through the drought crisis.

LOST CROP: Dryland corn is just that – DRY – in most of south-central Kansas. These corners in an irrigated field did not even tassle. Inside the irrigated field, small, under-developed ears have led to a decision to chop the field for silage rather than harvest it for grain.

Sedgwick County farmer Dennis Gruenbacher said he is worried about next year being even worse than this year and farmers being docked water rights for over-pumping this year. Is there a way, he asked, that farmers could be "forgiven" excessive water use this year because of the drought crisis and start with a clean slate next year?

Flexibility in water rights is something the state is addressing. Kansas Water Law will be open for revision by the 2012 Kansas State Legislature.

Jackie McClaskey, deputy secretary of agriculture for Kansas, said revision will hopefully give producers more flexibility. But she appealed to the producers on the bus to weigh in with ideas.

"Water law is going to be rewritten," she said. "We want the changes to come from you, the producers, to make it work better. We need you to weigh in. Give us your ideas. Tell us what flexibility you need. We don't want this to come from Topeka. We want it to come from the farms of Kansas."
TAGS: Disaster
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