WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration called on Congress Wednesday to assist farmers suffering from the worst drought in 25 years. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said three-fifths of the U.S. land mass and much of the country's corn and soybean crops have been affected by the lack of rain.
Vilsack met with President Barack Obama Wednesday to discuss a response to the disaster. Vilsack said farmers need Congress to pass a five-year $500 billion farm and nutrition bill that is awaiting action in the House of Representatives or at least approve additional disaster programs or provide more flexibility in the availability of credit.
The administration has declared drought disasters in one third of the counties in the country, making them eligible for assistance such as low interest loans.
Vilsack cautioned consumers about potential price gouging in the short-term, saying any increase in retail costs would likely come late this year and next year. In fact, he said, the price of beef, chicken and poultry could well go down in the short term as producers reduce their stocks in
the face of higher feed costs. Vilsack also said that despite the drought, corn crops are on track to having the
''If in fact people are beginning see food price increases now, it is not in any way shape or form related to the drought and we should be very careful to keep an eye on that to make sure that people don not take advantage of a very difficult and painful situation,'' Vilsack said.
The farm bill passed the Senate and cleared the House Agriculture Committee on a bipartisan vote. House Speaker John Boehner has not scheduled a vote on the legislation, but lawmakers representing rural regions were pressing him to accelerate action on the bill. Reps. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., were collecting signatures from their colleagues urging passage before the August congressional recess.
Asked about the role of prayer in addressing the drought, Vilsack said ''If I had a rain prayer or rain dance I could do, I would do it.''
Brookings - The latest U.S. Drought Monitor now indicates abnormally dry to severe drought spanning across South Dakota. The entire state is depicted in D0 to D3 status on the map, which can be viewed at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu.
"On a Corn Belt basis, this is the most widespread drought since 1988," said Dennis Todey, South Dakota State Climatologist.
Above average temperatures increase water demand by crops and vegetation, in an already water-limited environment.
Seventy-seven percent of South Dakota is now considered to be in moderate to severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. "This reflects a thirty percent increase in the area experiencing a significant level of drought impacts," said Laura Edwards, Extension Climate Field Specialist. Almost twenty percent of the state is in severe drought, or D3, on the July 10 map. This is the most state coverage at this level of drought since July 2007.
"Nearly all stations in the state have set records for average temperatures since March 1 and since the beginning of the calendar year adding to the drying out of locations," said Todey. In combination with the extended period of above average temperatures during the growing season, precipitation has been well below average for the last 60 days. Some climate observing locations in the southern counties have experienced dry periods that rank in the top ten driest combined May and June on record. The State Climate Office's observation network has confirmed the dry and hot climate of late, as temperatures soared over 100 across the south.
"A report of 112 degrees in Hoover, S.D., in June was the highest temperature statewide since July 2007," said Edwards.
Most climate locations have measured around 50% of average rainfall over the last two months.
Hay production is suffering, reported to be as low as one-third to one-half of average in some drier areas. Row crops, particularly in the southeast, are continuing to show signs of water stress. In corn growing areas, tasseling is occurring. This period is a critical time for rainfall, which is necessary to maintain effective pollination and plant health.
In the western watersheds, water restrictions are being implemented to conserve water for domestic users. Low levels in stock ponds have led to concerns of water quality for cattle.
Edwards and Todey are monitoring drought conditions statewide.
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