Opinion: After the drought, seeking long-term solutions for farmers
September 6th, 2012
02:45 PM ET
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Farmers with Issues is a platform for farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Craig Rogers is the shepherd and owner of Border Spring Farm Lamb in Patrick Springs, Virginia, where he raises and sells pastured raised "Animal Welfare Approved" lamb to acclaimed chefs across the country. He is a vocal advocate for rural small farms.

The news of the devastating drought of 2012 has overwhelmed the press with stories of hardship, despair, pain and suffering. Now federal and state governments are stepping in to "help the farmers."

Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture announced plans to buy up to $170 million of beef, pork, lamb and catfish to "help farmers in drought stricken areas." But from whom do they actually buy that meat? And does it help a farmer or family who may be your neighbor?

The USDA will soon put out requests for quotes for large quantities of meat, and many large packers and wholesalers will bid. It is unlikely that any farmer facing the hardship of how to keep their animals alive because of lack of water or forage will be the recipient of that money, or will decide to keep their animals instead of dumping them.

They may see the auction prices for their animals tick upward a bit, but that is if they want to sell now, or dump their animals and get out. The U.S. will clean out old inventory of beef, pork, lamb and catfish in the large freezers of corporate packers and wholesalers, and it will go to federal food nutrition assistance programs.

Buying meat and fish from the major packing houses and wholesalers to be used in government food programs and schools is noble but hardly helps a farmer or solves a problem. It does, however, make for great headlines.

See if you can find a family farmer who lives near you who benefits from $170 million dollars being spent on meat in a freezer somewhere large enough for tractor trailers to back into. Will this prevent them from having to sell their cattle? Will it assist with the next note payment on the farm, or pay for new irrigation, automatic livestock waterers, or drilling new wells?

This is hardly the last drought America will see and we don’t have to think back far to the last. American farmland is becoming more temperate and water is becoming ever more elusive.

The federal government has a program called the Livestock Indemnity Program which provides cash payments to eligible producers for livestock death losses in excess of normal mortality due to adverse weather. Why would they pay for dead animals instead of paying to keep them alive and not address the problem?

If the problem is water to keep animals alive and healthy, the government should invest in infrastructure to address the long term problem, instead of reacting to a short term dip in cattle, pork, lamb and catfish prices. Farmers could stay in business for the long haul instead of encouraging them to sell their livestock for a short term gain, or less of a loss.

It was encouraging to see Governor Nixon of the state of Missouri investing in building new wells for farmers. That is how you keep a family farm in business during this drought, and the next one, and the one after that.

Next spring, when the drought of 2012 has been forgotten by most non-farmers, how long will it be before we hear the next news story about a drought impacting farmers, their families, and our food supply?

If there is to be a real commitment to helping American farmers, it must focus on long term solutions: protecting fertile farmland from the hands of development, addressing climate change on American farmlands so that farmers can humanely care for livestock and helping families stay in farming during and after disasters.

Helping farmers who have been hurt by the drought is not easy. It requires looking at a farmer in the eyes, learning their story, then determining how to keep them in business so they can provide food for another generation.

Should federal and state government help farmers work out long-term solutions, or should they figure it out on their own? Weigh in below.


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soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. ulimited hosting

    Incredible! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It's on a totally different subject but it has pretty much the same page layout and design. Great choice of colors!| ulimited hosting http://www.bacfrancais.com/userinfo.php?uid=663526

    August 5, 2013 at 2:10 am |
  2. Ann

    What a beautiful dog - !

    May 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  3. Terex

    The dog is a Kuvasz, with origins in Hungary. One of the great, white mountain dogs of europe (including the Great Pyrenees (French Alps), Maremma Sheep Dog (Italy), Akbash Mountain Dog (Turkey), etc.

    Large scale sheep farming destroyed much of the native grasses in the west, attendant depletion of water resources and is one of the big contributors to ongoing drought conditions.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Cincy Jan

      (1) I cannot tell a Kuvasz from a Great Pyr unless the Pyr has shaded ears. Here in SW Ohio KY, I've only seen Great Pyr protecting sheep from coyotes. (2) Hard to believe sheep are responsible for the drought. They would have to be grazing to the point that grass would fail to grow back, which would starve them, so that makes no sense to me. (3) Also do not see how oil/gas drilling in US contributes to drought. (4) I live in suburbia and am dreading the next water bill. Luckily, I can buy what I need to keep landscape going. Government has always built the huge, multi-state water systems (the TVA, the Hoover Dam), but the national coffers are depleted ... if not actually in China now ... in the meantime, grocery prices are rising at an alarming rate.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Stan

      I have some suggestions. Take full advantage of the rain you do get. Dig numerous deep small holes in the ground to help capture rainfall. This prevents evaporation by the sun and the wind. Plant some trees. Trees provide leaves which help hold the moisture in the ground after it rains. The leaves also provide mulch (food) for earthworms and you need earthworms to aerate the soil to keep it healthy. Trees also provide shade to help keep the sun from evaporating rainfall. These ideas didn't come from me, they came from an ancient Indian tribe who managed to grow crops out in the desert.

      September 7, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  4. KS

    If find the paragraph beginning, "If there is to be a real commitment to helping American farmers, it must focus on long term solutions.." a bit uneducated. The Federal Government recently passed/renewed, with bipartisan support for the last 80 years, the Farm Bill. This provides a safety net to farmers while helping invest in their infrastructure. Because of this bill and the policies it sets into place (ex. CRP programs) we are able to avoid massive ecological damage during drought years. In addition we are also able to avoid massive food shortages.

    Farmers do not intentionally let their animals die so they can collect a government check. Animals thrive individually in their species specific thermonuclear zones. For example cattle gain and are not stressed when they are in an environment between the temperatures of 45 to 75 degrees. During hot summers, the heat is unavoidable and death because of it does occur. It's similar to the unavoidable problems humans face with senior citizens when the power goes out during a heat wave.

    While I appreciate this article bring light to problems farm families are facing, the author does a poor job at actually representing the facts.

    September 7, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • proactive goals

      I find the points that were raised to be excellent. Preservation of arable/grazing land through initiatives like protective zoning for agriculture and not residential areas is as important as getting destructive livestock off the land during times of vulnerability. Sheep and goats can absolutely ruin land for years by eating sparse vegetation down to the root. While some of the legislation you mentioned has indeed helped farmers, much more can be done if assistance is judged necessary. As unpopular as this may sound, protective zoning excluding agriculture in drought-prone areas is also a bonus. It is the same idea as not supporting or insuring building expensive houses in flood-prone areas. That is dumb and it should be stopped. You want to build/farm in high-risk place? Ok, but don't expect to be bailed out.

      September 7, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  5. .

    Obama would eat the dog.

    September 7, 2012 at 6:14 am |
  6. .

    You didn't build that. Someone else did it for you.

    Bull schidt.

    September 7, 2012 at 6:13 am |
    • Steve D

      There is no shortage of water. The only problem is the location and condtion of the water, as in fresh or salty. There is as much water as there ever has been.

      So the problem, if you really want to solve it in a permanent way, involves the ability to 1) Desalinate water, and 2) Move it where it's needed. All of that is doable, assuming you have a clean, renewable, free source of energy.

      It all comes back to energy. Some sources of energy create problems. Some sources solve problems.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:30 am |
      • James K.


        You have some good ideas there, but they're a little bit impractical. At the moment, the technology isn't there to economically desalinate water for use in even domestic applications–and it doesn't seem like there are going to be ways to accomplish this at a cost-effective manner for a good amount of time. Furthermore, where we would need this water is in the middle of the country, thousands of miles away from any coastal region. This is also problematic, because to pipe water across the country would, again be an expensive endeavor. Even if it were possible, there is almost a guarantee that the cost of that water would be significantly more than what you pay to open the tap. And while you could make the argument that the government could subsidize that cost, then the debate would begin on from where the water would come.

        If desalinization plants are out, we would have to look to other water sources–which would mean that you'd need to be drawing water from regions with excess rainfall. Predicting where those excessively wet locations would be is by no means certain, which means that you'd need a whole network of pipelines going across the country to try to bring water into a place where there is none. Again, you're looking at an expensive and large scale endeavor, to say the least.

        As for renewable energy, there's no such thing. There are more efficient forms of energy available, but at the moment, there is not a more reliable source of energy than fossil fuels in terms of the amount of energy we get per the energy necessary to refine it. That's the great misconception at the moment–no one in politics talks about the energy necessary to harvest energy.

        Take windmills, for example: we create wind farms with several hundreds of wind mills to harvest wind energy. It seems like a good idea on the surface, and perhaps it's even something we should aspire towards. But the reality is that these windmills have a life span, and there is a certain amount of energy necessary to fabricate the components of the windmill, deliver them to the middle of nowhere, and install them. Also, energy is expended to build the transmission lines from the windfarm to the people receiving the energy, and beyond that, energy is lost as the electricity travels the multiple hundreds of miles from the wind farm to the consumer. Then twenty years down the line when the gear boxes wear out, energy will once again be expended to get a truck out to the wind farms, with newly fabricated components, to enact the necessary repairs.

        Unfortunately, with the politization of these issues a technical component is missing from the discussion. News agencies and people in the media talk about these solutions as if we are truly doing something much better than we really are. I'm not saying that renewable energy isn't something we should aspire towards, but it is worth realizing that things aren't as easy as the evening news makes it out to be. We just have to remember that there is no such thing as a perpetual machine, and from a thermodynamics standpoint, there is always a limit on how efficient a system can be. Perhaps that limit needs to be more of a part of the discussion when we begin to talk about energy and politics.

        September 7, 2012 at 9:29 am |
        • Michele

          Excellent post! What is really needed right now is for every single local community to start small-scale gardens so they can feed themselves. You can catch rainwater locally for practically nothing and use it on a small scale. Having such a dependence on livestock might be impractical right now just because lifestock (beef and pig) is expensive to keep. You can always grow vegetables and keep chickens. We have to start feeding ourselves locally .... it's the only solution.

          September 7, 2012 at 10:51 am |
        • proactive goals

          Yes, it is the same mandate that FDR urged on U.S. citizens to grow their own "victory gardens" during the war. In the future, every single rooftop should have a garden and solar panels on it. Bare roofs are a waste of space. People in this country have gone from hardworking do-it-yourselfers to lazy individuals who think they can just buy everything.

          September 7, 2012 at 11:02 am |
        • Provocative Thought@proactive goals

          Just imagine what we could have done for this country if we spent trillions on roof top gardens and solar panels instead of useless wars and tax cuts for the rich.

          September 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
      • DLM

        Have you ever been on a Disney Cruise? Disney has figured out how to de-salinate water on a grand scale. They do it for their cruise ships and have set up a plant on their private island. It can be done, but instead of cuts, cuts, cuts in this country, we need to start investing in our future.

        September 7, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  7. Lyshan

    Couple points:

    1) Ironically enough up north in Canada where I farm we are having the reverse problem. We have had a dramatic increase in the rainfall. This has caused issues when we go to get crops off the field with both our swather and combine routinely getting stuck in the muck.

    2) While it is true that increased water use is draining aquafiers, it doesn't change the amount of rainfall that an area would receive. This means that the decreased rain has nothing to do with water usage.

    3) Piping in water is a wildly unrealistic option just from the logistics side not even looking at the economic side. If you used wells to irrigate the land or give water to the cattle you would be increasing the rate you use up the ground water which could lead to problems down the line.

    4) Buying the stored product increases the demand for fresh meat and allows farmers to stay afloat for at least a while longer. While it isn't a long term solution a drought usually isn't a long term problem (Though the '30s might disagree with me). Long term action is required but not as a reactionary gesture. Short term support of farmers helps prop them up while a long term project would take years to complete while farmers continued to struggle. The problem with any action that is planned in the long term is that governments can and often do change every four years. This could result in projects being abandoned with absolutely no results. That is why short term solutions are so common, it might not be best but you can be sure it will be executed.

    September 7, 2012 at 3:21 am |
    • Charles

      Lyshan those are excellent points, one and all. So, is the solution in allowing the farmers as a group to propose a longterm solution to the people of their own region and keep the politicians in any capital out of it? My experience is that those who know the problem best are the ones who will come up with the better longterm solution.
      Keep farming all of our stalwart food producers.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Country Concerned

      I totally disagree with you on drainage of aquafer and tiling away of surface water. The desert receives very little to no water since their is no evaporative effect to create rain. Those that receive rain tend to be areas where water is plentiful. It take a balance of sustained water resources and farmable cropland. Draining off the water upsets that balance, prevents groundwater from replenishing, and prevents aquafers from refilling.

      September 7, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  8. Epidi

    Already been thru TMI in the 70's. NO thank you.

    September 7, 2012 at 3:06 am |
  9. Rex Peterson

    First, the government has been buying and distributing commodities for decades. The announcement is mostly political hype to asssure the farmer that the government is helping.
    Second, even if we started to have normal rainfall, the range ecologists at the University of Nebraska tell us that the damage to the grasses from this one year of drought is so severe that next year there will be no more grass than grew this year. This year we had less than half normal grass production. It hasn't started to rain in the High Plains yet. It's time to take some cows to market.

    September 7, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  10. oio

    sheepdogs. They are my favorite pet to protect the sheeps.

    September 6, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • Epidi

      Collie is my personal fav.

      September 7, 2012 at 2:56 am |
      • LesT

        It looks more like an English cream golden retreiver

        September 7, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Little Timmy

      Why would your sheep need protection? Aren't Trojans enough?

      September 7, 2012 at 6:48 am |
  11. 587hrs

    Picture: The sheepels at the DNC with their eeceiving ends getting ready for obamas speech.

    September 6, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  12. jonathan

    since when did selling lambs to chefs qualify as "animal welfare"?

    September 6, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • Epidi

      Since they don't suffer by starvation or dehydration. It's a drought.

      September 7, 2012 at 2:58 am |
      • .

        SO hang them upside down and slash their throats so they twitch and bleed out.

        September 7, 2012 at 6:51 am |
  13. Sonya

    I didn't read the article, I only read the title. I can tell you the only solution to drought is obedience to God. He said I will give you rain in due season, and the latter rain if ye obey My Word. When we don't obey His word we get drought. Why should God bless us if we shun Him?

    September 6, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Epidi

      Perhaps we should offer a sacrifice or do a rain dance in his honor – do you think that would appease him?

      September 7, 2012 at 3:00 am |
    • Redjerry

      What does Allah say about obeying him in order to ensure he will provide rain? Or Zeus, Odin, Vishnu, Budda, Ron L. Hubbard, Harry Beanbag, Yoda and Santa Claus? Hummmm? What do they say about minding your manners and being good so the rain will come, huh Sonya?

      September 7, 2012 at 6:21 am |
  14. Country Concerned

    Plug the tiles that eliminate trillions of gallons a year of surface water, stop the production of ethanol which promotes sucking out the ground water directly or again directly to irrigate fields to grow corn to produce ethanol.

    September 6, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  15. SurveilBy1

    Reality 101: Energy, no matter what the source, is not as necessary to individual and societal survival as water. $Billions are spent each year on energy resource detection, development and distribution. $Billions are spent each year on military hardware and software applications. Compare that with how much is spent on water. Just speaking of the United States, climatologist and geologists have determined long ago that the bulk of the country is semi-arid. Plain English: most of the country is naturally predisposed to being a desert. If water resources aren't identified, protected, reclaimed, and even developed, there won't be a country left to consume all that energy, let alone protect. A cost-shared approach should be implemented at the federal level to build desalinization plants in coastal areas, and pumping / pipeline infrastructure developed to ship water to where it is needed during regional, or national droughts. Inland aquifers in the Midwest and South are facing more and more pressure as population increases and water-consuming activities increase. There is only so much water available in these aquifers. Look at Nebraska as a case in point, where there is pressure to build the Keystone pipeline right over land that feeds the regional aquifer. Pipelines break, thru age, poor construction, earthquake or sabotage. No discussion is being held regarding what happens if this aquifer is contaminated. An entire region of the country will become unlivable, unfarmable, unranchable. But, despite this enormous risk, I believe the pipeline will be built in the area mentioned, everyone and everything else be damned. So, when that happens, and there's no other source of water, then what? The predicaments are out there, yet no one in authority is even addressing them. It is up to each of us to proactively put pressure on those in authority until they do their jobs and find workable, cost-effective solutions before any further water-oriented crises develop.

    September 6, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • don keller

      great comment.. really. it's great to see someone with a clear perspective ..

      September 6, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • don keller

      can I forward this to my friends ?

      September 6, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Epidi

      Excellent comment. I've had to boil our water a time or two (I gave up & bought bottled to drink). We had an area drought and the local reservior was getting low. I didn't really want to shower in it so I boiled for baths & doing the dishes. Water is a resource we take for granted until it's not available.

      September 7, 2012 at 3:05 am |
  16. don keller

    actually, we should suck it up and get off the fossil fuel, which is the cause of the drought.. drilling more wells is a short term addition to the problem. how much water do you think we can pull out of the ground ? perhaps we should look up a few things about aquifers, especially the ogallala.

    September 6, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  17. porto

    It's a shame we live on a planet ~80% covered with water and we don't have enough of it where needed.

    September 6, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • proactive goals

      It's a shame we have the knowledge and technology to control our own reproduction by preventing pregnancy and yet the vast majority of people simply won't do it. Living sustainably with the wonderful resources we already have should be the goal, not figuring out how to "sustain" ever inceasing, unlimited human population. Do the math, people.

      September 7, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  18. ArthurP

    Simple solution. Nuclear plants to generate electricity to desalinate sea water. Then pipe it to where it is needed.

    September 6, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • don keller

      not much of an engineer are you ?

      September 6, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
      • SurveilBy1

        we pump oil from one part of the continent to the other, why not water?

        September 6, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
        • don keller

          when we talk about oil, we are talking a mere few tens of millions of gallons a day. when we talk about water usage we talk about trillions of gallons per second a factor of millions .. and lets try to "simply" put a nuke plant in someons back yard.

          September 6, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  19. Lana

    Get prepared for drought. Build reservoirs, dig canals, irrigate and conserve water. There are places that get no more than 14 inches of moisture a year and grow healthy crops. I live in such an area. It can be done and must be done if the mid west is going to survive.

    September 6, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • jeb

      i live uin an area with less than 8" and only 4 this year!

      September 6, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  20. Russ

    What the farmers, mostly bad mouthing Obama, would look for the government for help? Tell me it ain't so. Figure it our for yourselves. That's the Romney/Ryan way. Morons!

    September 6, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • DCPam

      Suck it up and drill a well. It what a homeowner would do.

      September 6, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
      • don keller

        actually, we should suck it up and get off the fossil fuel, which is the cause of the drought.. drilling more wells is a short term addition to the problem. how much water do you think we can pull out of the ground ? perhaps you should look up a few things about aquifers, especially the ogola.

        September 6, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  21. Belseth

    Sounds like more corporate welfare. They are buying from the distributors to make sure the distributors make money. Isn't the real point to keep farmers from going under and creating a system to prevent this from happening again???? Why is the only solution ever considered more profits for rich corporations??? If you want to keep food prices down then give farmers an option that doesn't involve harvesting millions of animals that will take years to recover from. We have to assume more droughts in the future and maybe next year so what then? Factory farming has been a disaster. We need smaller farms that can adjust to the changes.

    September 6, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Anna

      I agree more corporate welfare but they scream bloody murder if a poor person ask for help!

      September 6, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • I Said That

      Prevent this happening again? I don't think any of the political parties can control the weather or magically create water, and the truth is, that's what you'd need. I don't think small family farms would necessarily be any more drought resistant, either.

      September 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  22. Eli Cabelly

    We need to invest in desalinization plants, water collectors, anything and everything before the aquifer is fully depleted. We need to start treating water as a scarce resource now (no more fracking!) before things get really bad.

    This drought is only the beginning.

    September 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • CB007

      The irony is that this are mostly red-state conservative voters, the people who vote against alternative energy and complain about the growing government debt. Basically, if you tell everyone else that their problems aren't worth the government's money how can you then turn around and expect a bail out or some sort of assistance?? Climate change is here so the smart thing would be to start planning around it - plan for more summers like this one, but you can do that because these people don't believe in climate change either...

      September 6, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
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