U.S. Senator Jerry Moran has sent an urgent appeal to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to declare 21 Kansas counties agricultural disaster areas as a result of production losses caused by drought, wild fires, and high winds. Moran's appeal supports a recent request made by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
"As I travel throughout Kansas, I can see the devastating impact of the drought and wild fires," Moran said. "By declaring these counties agricultural disaster areas, farmers and ranchers in the affected counties will become eligible for USDA emergency loans. This assistance will enable agricultural operations to continue across our state, in spite of the exceedingly dry conditions."
The 21 counties included in Moran's request are Finney, Gove, Grant, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Kearny, Lane, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Scott, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stanton, Stevens, Thomas, Wallace, and Wichita.
In addition to his request for disaster designations, Moran notified Vilsack of the potential need to approve emergency grazing and haying on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in drought stricken areas. Moran asked that Vilsack quickly approve such requests when they arrive to supplement depleted forage sources for livestock producers.
Moran is a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.
Gov. Brownback toured the drought and fire-stricken areas of southwest Kansas last week.
The governor said the state could assist with replacing burned railroad bridges, fences and utility poles that were lost in grassfires.
Six bridges on the Cimmaron Valley shortline railroad were destroyed, including a 917-foot span built in 1913. It will cost between $4 million and $6 million to replace just that span, but residents said there is a wider impact.
Grain and other products that were previously transported over those routes must now be re-routed through other areas, including into Colorado and Oklahoma. Truck traffic has increased, with it taking four vehicles loaded with grain to equal one rail car.
"If we lose the railroad, we would dry up and blow away," said Bob Boaldin, a Haskell County official. "The railroad is the lifeblood of these communities."
Henry Hale, operations manager for the railroad, said replacing the bridge could take six months or more. Each day counts, he said, with about a third of the railroad's revenue lost because of the burned track and bridges.