Iowa Public Television


Drought Worst In Decades

posted on May 17, 2002

The Wet weather in the eastern Corn Belt could encourage farmers there to plant more soybeans and less corn. But, the fact remains a normal corn and soybean harvest is likely.

For wheat producers and others in the West the climate, not just the weather, seems to be shifting and not for the better.

The apparent change is already affecting farmers, ranchers and rural economies. It's also provoking a serious look at proposals to change the use of federal grazing lands.

The drought situation in the Plains and some Western states continues to worsen. Allusions to the Dust Bowl are becoming regular, though it is generally agreed that Conservation Reserve land and better farming practices are preventing the giant raging dust storms of the 1930s.

But dust storms are becoming more common and it is taking its toll on crops. Wheat, the main crop of the region, is either severely stunted or in some cases non-existent at a time when farmers should be wading through the fields. In fact, more than a thousand farmers have given up trying to grow a crop in eastern Montana, Colorado officials are expecting almost no wheat crop, and in Kansas wheat yields are expected to be off 10 percent from 2001.

Lack of rain also means lack of grazing land. Cattle are being auctioned off at an accelerated pace as farmers and ranchers look to cut their losses or liquidate entirely.

With such a dire weather situation compounding the already difficult task of raising cattle, a plan to buy out grazing permits may be an enticing proposition. The National Public Lands Grazing Campaign is proposing a plan in which livestock farmers would receive up to 350 percent of their costs for voluntarily giving up their permits to graze federal land. Under then plan, an operation with 300 cow-calf pairs would receive as much as 262 thousand dollars. The entire buyout would cost an estimated three point three billion dollars or what the group estimates to be about 7 years of subsidies. NPLGC claims such an action would restore environmental damage and relieve a burden on the taxpayer from the less than three percent of the livestock industry relying on federal lands.

Livestock and agriculture groups oppose such a plan. They claim grazing public land is vital to the well-being of rural areas. Foes of the plan also allege grazing achieves ecological goals that would be unattainable without livestock foraging.


Tags: agriculture crops drought news water weather