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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back in the Dust Bowl

An aerial view of a wheat field that failed to grow because of the drought in Haskell County.

Leaders in the Captiol here in Kansas have been hard at work to get 21 south western counties in Kansas recognized by the USDA as areas of natural disaster because of the recent drought that has caused crop and cattle production to dwindle. These are the counties involved in disaster areas: Finney, Gove, Grant, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Kearny, Lane, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Scott, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stanton, Stevens, Thomas, Wallace and Wichita.

"Kansas if facing one of the worst droughts since the Dust Bowl days," said Sen. Pat Roberts in this article released today.

He's not far off. If you will remember my family's farm is in Haskell County where we attempt to raise wheat, cotton, corn and cattle. This year the wheat crop is non-existent partly due to the drought conditions and the fire that blazed through the area in April.

It's easy to see that it will be a rough summer for most farmers in the area. One thing many people won't think about is how the drought will affect cattle ranchers in the area. We don't have the lush green pastures of the Flint Hills in Kansas, but what we do have usually works for our cow herd. We turn our cows out in the spring on a pasture of mostly Bermuda grass that looks pretty dormant most years and greens up pretty good in April or May. Things are a little more desolate this year.

The greenest thing in the pastures back home might just be the algae in the water tank. Thus is the reason that this morning my Dad headed to the sale barn this morning with a big chunk of our cow herd. He culled any of our cows that were old or had structural problems. The reason we can't keep these cows around is because the feed that we normally depend on (the pasture grass) isn't there due to the severe drought conditions. This year we are hoping to be able to run 25 cows with their calves along side on 1000 acres of grass. We're not even sure that we will make it into the fall without supplementing them with feed and 1000 acres is a lot of ground!

Remembering that farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists, the SWKS area will get through this drought just as it has in the past. Rest assured that farmers are doing everything possible to preserve the ground that they have signed on for a lifetime to be caretakers of. My dad will not be doing anything foolish with the ground he farms because he wants his son to be able to continue with the family business. Ranchers are also being responsible in how their cattle are cared for. Knowing that it's going to be a rough summer, my family will not be compromising the welfare of any cows that might have a hard time grazing the pasture ground we're dealing with. By selling them as cow-calf pairs we have, in a sense, given them an opportunity to move on to greener pastures!

What does this mean to you as a consumer? The southwestern corner of Kansas is a huge supplier of grain and cattle in the Kansas economy, which is also a huge supplier to the US food supply. You probably won't see a rise in prices at the grocery store, even though many farmers are going to see huge deficits on the profit margin. That's where understanding how American Agriculture works full circle and realizing that we are still able to feed our population through adverse weather conditions comes in.

American Agriculturists are working hard to literally put food on the table. We need consumer support and welcome any questions you may have.

My Best,

Tera Rooney

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