Iowa Public Television

 

Drought conditions cause worry

posted on May 5, 2000


IN WASHINGTON, LAWMAKERS ARE WRESTLING WITH THE TASK OF HOW TO SPEND AN ADDITIONAL 7 BILLION DOLLARS ALLOCATED BY THE CURRENT CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET RESOLUTION FOR FARM AID. SINCE 1998, CONGRESS HAS PIPED 15 BILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF EMERGENCY AID TO FARMERS HIT BY BAD WEATHER AND LOW COMMODITY PRICES.

THE ADMINISTRATION WANTS TO DISBURSE THE LATEST MONEY THROUGH LOWER INSURANCE PREMIUMS, CONSERVATION PROGRAMS, AND DIRECT THE AID TO SMALLER-SCALE FARMING OPERATIONS. THE REPUBLICAN-CONTROLLED CONGERS HAS OTHER IDEAS, BUT IS STILL FORMULATING A PLAN.

IN THE MEANTIME, ANOTHER FACTOR HAS ARISEN THAT COULD WELL DIVERT THE FLOW OF FEDERAL FARM AID.

THE DREADED "D"-WORD IS WORKING IT'S WAY INTO THE VOCABULARY OF LARGE PORTIONS OF THE U-S. CONTINUED DRY CONDITIONS IN THE SOUTHERN TIER OF STATES HAVE PUSHED SOME AREAS INTO EXTREME DROUGHT STATUS. A NORTH-SOUTH SWATH OF THE CENTRAL MAINLAND IS NEARLY 4 INCHES BEHIND ON RAINFALL FOR THE PAST THREE MONTHS. AND WATER LEVELS IN THE GREAT LAKES HAVE FALLEN BY AS MUCH AS THREE FEET IN THE PAST TWO YEARS, A RESULT OF LOW STREAM FLOW IN THE REGION.

DESPITE A DEARTH OF RAIN IN MANY REGIONS, THE TOP FIVE FEET OF SOIL CRITICAL TO CROP GROWTH REMAINS AT AVERAGE MOISTURE LEVELS ACROSS MUCH OF THE U-S. CLIMATOLOGISTS NOTE A LACK OF MOISTURE ISN'T LIKELY TO CAUSE PROBLEMS IN THE CORN BELT UNTIL JUNE AND JULY WHEN TEMPERATURES CLIMB AND GROWING PLANTS CONSUME MORE WATER . YET, IF TIMELY RAINS HYDRATE THE TOP FIVE FEET OF SOIL, CROPS COULD THRIVE REGARDLESS OF THE ONSET OF DROUGHT.

ALL THE HUBBUB OVER AN ANTICIPATED DROUGHT IS SPARKING DISCUSSION OF SOIL MOISTURE CONSERVATION IN RURAL AREAS. FARMERS ARE CONTEMPLATING NO-TILL METHODS, LOWER DENSITY PLANTING, CHANGES IN SEED VARIETIES, AND THE POSSIBILITY OF EARLY SEASON IRRIGATION.

THE POSSIBLE IMPACT OF A MOISTURE DEFICIT HAS NOT BEEN LOST ON THE MARKETS. REACTION TO THE WEATHER HAS PRODUCED SOME MARKED GAINS IN COMMODITIES PRICES. SINCE JANUARY FIRST, THE PRICE OF CORN HAS CLIMBED MORE THAN 20 CENTS. SOYBEANS HAVE ALSO GOTTEN A BOOST FROM THE DRY CONDITIONS, CLIMBING NEARLY A DOLLAR A BUSHEL SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR.

Tags: agriculture crops drought news weather