From the devastation of the Dust Bowl in the ’30s to the historic droughts that parched much of the country last year, weather disasters have played a significant role in the story of American agriculture – as well as the nation’s economic security. A Feb. 14 hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry examined the toll weather disasters have taken on American agriculture – which employs 16 million Americans – and what steps can be taken to safeguard the economy from future catastrophes.
Here are excerpts of testimony presented at the hearing.
“To achieve a more comprehensive vision of a truly ‘national integrated drought information system’ requires improvements that NIDIS has already begun to address.
These include improving the understanding and predictability of droughts across a variety of timescales for seasonal to interannual and decadal time scales, including the role of precipitation events in reducing drought duration and intensity, improving the national and regional drought information framework, developing impact indicators to form part of a comprehensive early-warning system and working with the private sector and others on guidance and standards for developing value-added products to support drought plans.”
Dr. Roger Pulwarty
Director, National Integrated Drought Information System – NOAA
“Despite a historic drought affecting much of U.S. agriculture, the U.S. agricultural economy is strong and, in aggregate, farm incomes are near record highs. However, aggregate measures belie differences between sectors.
Row crop producers have generally fared well despite the adverse weather, in large part due to higher prices from the federal crop insurance programs, which have helped offset losses. For uninsured producers, or producers of crops for which insurance is unavailable, crop losses have had a more adverse effect.
Livestock producers experienced high feed costs and poor pasture conditions, with limited programs to fall back on, particularly since key livestock disaster programs authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill are currently unfunded.”
Dr. Joe Glauber
Chief Economist, USDA
“The impact of drought and fire has hit our farming operation and those of our neighbors. Of most immediate concern to our dairy operation is the area of feed supply and costs. Hay is in very short supply for both dairy and beef producers. The price of high-quality dairy hay has gone up 50 percent; lower-quality hay, suitable for beef cattle, has more than doubled.
“In the crop production arena, we can all say with pride that the federal crop insurance program has performed well. Crop insurance has helped to mitigate huge losses farmers suffered in 2012.
“I would urge you to consider changes that will allow individual policies to be customized to more closely fit each farm. Maintaining this successful federal crop insurance program should be our highest priority.”
Dairy and crop farmer, Humboldt, Nebraska
“Nobody feels the effect of weather disasters more deeply than our nation’s farmers and ranchers, whose livelihoods depend on getting just the right amount of rain at just the right time.
“We all know that farming is the riskiest business in the world. Mother Nature certainly made sure we didn’t forget that last year.
“We need to give producers the tools to manage the risk from those weather events. And we need to give them certainty so they can make plans for their businesses. That’s why it is critical that we pass a five-year Farm Bill into law.”
Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow
“We did not anticipate record-breaking drought and heat when we planted our 2012 crop. The crop was planted timely, and we concentrated on installing an irrigation pivot on 35 acres of really sandy soil in hopes of raising 200-plus-bushel corn per acre under the pivot and 170 bushels per acre on our non-irrigated soils. We were confident we could raise 70 bushels per acre of soybeans.
“The yields from the 2012 crop were the lowest on record for our farm. The average corn yield was 41 bushels per acre, while the soybeans fared somewhat better at 30.4 bushels per acre … Our average corn yield would be 34 bushels per acre had we not installed the irrigation pivot.
“We paid a substantial premium for crop insurance and that decision is keeping us in business for the 2013 crop year.”
Crop farmer, Edinburgh, Indiana
“Last year was the most disastrous year that I and the cherry industry have ever experienced … In Michigan, we have the capacity to produce 275 million pounds of tart cherries. In 2012, our total was 11.6 million pounds. The entire national crop was only 85 million pounds.
“There is no tart cherry crop insurance available at all for our industry. So my fellow cherry growers and I have no risk management tool to get through this very difficult year. NAP, the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, is available.
However, the policy starts at a 50 percent loss and then pays out only 50 percent of that number. Farmers are left with only about 25 percent coverage and there is a $100,000 cap. This does not come close to just covering our expenses.”
Cherry farmer, Leelanau, Michigan
“A ranch family in Blaine County lost 160 tons of hay to fire when lightning struck their hay stack. The application was denied because that rancher had not purchased crop insurance on a small field of hay barley. There is also a rule requiring that an operator report a loss within 30 days of the loss event occurring. This time period needs to be extended.
"Very often all the losses have not even been assessed in 30 days. You need time to start your recovery from the disaster before having to prepare your data for and deliver it to your local FSA office.
“The whole crop insurance thing needs to be dropped from the eligibility criteria. The LIP program is intended to provide assistance to livestock producers for livestock lost due to a natural disaster. This should not be another program for the crop insurance folks to cash in on.
"In general these programs need to be handled differently from other FSA programs because in most cases they are working with an entirely different crowd than those historically served by FSA.”
Rancher, Havre, Montana