Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and parts of Wyoming are "red hot," according to the drought monitor map compiled at the University of Nebraska. The situation is better in the Dakotas.
Photo by TradingCharts.com
Even though the weather has cooled a little in North Platte, the extreme drought continues to drive livestock feed prices into orbit.
July was the warmest month on record in Nebraska and was also the warmest month ever recorded in the U.S. In North Platte, July temperatures climbed into triple digits on 14 days and hit 95 or above on 21 days.
The hot and dry summer is still threatening crops and sending prices into orbit.
Corn is around $8 a bushel, nearly $2.50 a bushel higher than mid-June.
Grass hay is $200 a ton, three times the normal price. Similarly, alfalfa is $300 a ton.
Most of Nebraska has been declared a drought disaster by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which makes ag producers eligible for low interest loans, but many other federal assistance programs expired in July because in the face of soaring budget deficits, Congress failed to pass a new Farm Bill
Politicians are scrambling to address the problem.
Sen. Ben Nelson sat down at the North Platte Livestock Market Thursday to talk about the situation.
Market owner Holly Roeser and her staff hosted Nelson. Roeser outlined the drought-troubled state of the livestock economy. She said few ranchers in the area want more livestock this summer, due to increasing feed costs, and the drought is forcing ranchers to cut their herds.
“It was a really positive meeting,” Roeser said. “It was not a Democrat v. Republican debate. He contacted me. I told him I am a sixth-generation Republican. He seemed genuinely concerned and sincere in wanting to help.”
The numbers of cattle sold at the North Platte auction barn doubled during June and July.
Roeser said demand is good for feeder cattle and slaughter cows, but not as good for bred cows.
Roeser told Nelson that livestock owners are trying to sell weak and undesirable livestock; retaining only older and more durable livestock; and hoping conditions are better this spring so they can think about restocking.
“It’s a huge problem,” Roeser said. “Feed costs are soaring.”
Nelson discussed the ethanol fuel standard and its contribution to high crop prices, and listened to the concerns of Bill Rishel, Ann Burkholder and other cattle producers.
“With the drought predicted to last through October, natural disaster aid programs and provisions in the U.S. Senate-passed 2012 Farm Bill are in dire need,” Nelson said Monday in a statement to the news media.
Nelson said the U.S. House of Representatives is playing political games in not passing a new Farm Bill. The Senate has already passed the Farm Bill.
Nelson also visited Robert Dvorak's St. Paul-area farm that has been hit particularly hard. Dryland crops have died there, and it was not at all uncommon to select ears of corn in his irrigated field that were only 60 percent filled, he said.
Last week, Senate candidate Deb Fischer met with producers and Nebraska Farm Bureau members in Chadron, as well as individual producers in Lexington, West Point and Broken Bow, she said.
“I share the concern of Nebraska farmers and ranchers over the failure of the House to pass a bipartisan Farm Bill.”
Senate candidate Bob Kerrey canceled a fundraiser with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and instead talked to him about drought.
After the meeting, Vilsack agreed to waive a mandatory review of hard copy records for those filing crop insurance claims that amount to more than $200,000.
The previous mandatory review meant farmers had to provide hard copy settlement sheets for three years, Kerrey said. Vilsack said the Department of Agriculture would sample a percent of all the claims instead, greatly speeding up the process.
On Monday, Sen. Mike Johanns highlighted the impact on the state and nation. Johanns said that one in five steaks or hamburgers comes from Nebraska, and more than 10 percent of all corn grown in the United States can literally trace its roots to the Cornhusker state.
“But in recent months, a lack of rainfall coupled with intense heat has plunged the Heartland into a historic drought that has farmers and ranchers rightfully concerned about how their crops and livestock will survive and how that will affect their families and communities,” Johanns said.
Johanns said he’s seen drought-stricken fields and pastures stretching from Scottsbluff to the Missouri River.
Johanns, on the other hand, criticized Democrats in the Senate for not voting to extend the existing Farm Bill for one more year while the House decides what to do.
Johanns also called on the House to adopt the new Farm Bill.
Crop insurance is the best protection against damaging weather, Johanns said.
“I supported the Senate-passed farm bill, which strengthens crop insurance provisions and extends disaster assistance programs for livestock producers, which expired last fall. The House of Representatives needs to approve a farm bill that does so when Congress resumes session in September.”