Specter of drought hangs over this year’s crops

“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones” – old American folk song
Producers in the Midwest this summer may not be groaning out the lyrics to “Dry Bones,” but they will be lamenting tough, drought-like conditions facing their now lush crops during the growing season.
According to John Nielsen-Gammon, a Texas state climatologist, another year of drought, possible even five to 10 years of drought lie ahead in the Southwest, and indications are that some of that drought is beginning to settle in over the Midwest, as well.
While several timely rains in the form of thunderstorms have moved through the Midwest helping thirsty dry-land crops, signs of drought are readily apparent and plenty of bottomland farmers are running their irrigation rigs this June.
Jeff Caldwell, writing on AgricultureOnline.com, said a “longer-term view of the weather conditions doesn’t bide well for the most drought-stressed fields.” As storms move west to east through most of the region last Wednesday, between a quarter inch and four inches of rain fell, but much of it fell in areas where it wasn’t much needed, Caldwell said. A map from MDA EarthSat Weather, Inc., shows that the exception has been northwestern Iowa, parts of southern Minnesota, and northern Michigan, where they’ve seen 25 to 75 percent of normal precipitation.
Caldwell quotes MDA EarthSat as saying the last week in June and first two weeks of July “will be critical in determining crop production, especially for corn as the yield-determining pollination phase begins.”
So, producers will watch the skies carefully in the next several weeks to see whether rains will remain timely or pernicious drought will set in.
Big news in the next to last week of June was passage of the 2012 Farm Bill by the U.S. Senate. In action to reduce the federal deficit, senators axed $23 billion from the overall bill over the next ten years. That included $6.4 billion from conservation programs, a significant blow to the continuing effort to save our land, water, and air quality.
Fortunately, senators saw that these cuts would inhibit conservation efforts and made some concessions to mitigate that. They included policies designed to make remaining conservation efforts more effective. Specifically, the bill as passed consolidates some conservation programs and asks for stronger emphasis on “leveraging” additional resources from state and local governments and “other partners” who may assist local producers in doing voluntary, cooperative efforts to address local, state and regional conservation priorities.
That certainly is a big money shift away from federal funding, and could make results pretty spotty, given the wide variety of state programs and attitudes toward conservation as a philosophy. Simply said, some states “get it,” and some don’t.
At the last minute senators also decided to apply to taxpayer-funded crop insurance programs premium subsidies requirements that farmers on some environmentally sensitive lands currently have to meet—in order for them to receive other farm subsidies in the bill.
Sara Hopper, agricultural policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund, was quoted by U.S. Politics Today as saying, “With increasing pressures to feed a growing global population, America’s natural resources are under more demand and stress than ever before. Demand for conservation assistance to farmers already outstrips available conservation dollars. Congress must maintain and strengthen its commitment to conservation in this Farm Bill and one way to do that is through innovative partnership programs that bring conservation dollars to local communities.”
Amen to that.
I’ll see ya!

An Iowa native, Peter Graham has been a rural newspaper editor for 39 years. He currently edits a twice-weekly paper in Western Iowa. You can contact him at (712) 642-2791 or [email protected] times.com