SOMERVILLE, Mass.– Weather related disasters in farm country this growing season are threatening this year’s crops and livestock herds, creating dire consequences for farmers and ranchers. Record drought and floods have underscored the need for family farm organizations to strengthen the network of farm advocates that works to keep family farmers on their land. Family farmers are facing massive crop losses, and without assistance from the rest of the country, they could lose their farms for good.
Although working through cycles of droughts and floods is a normal part of any farmer’s life, one would have to go back to the Dust Bowl days of the 1920s and 30s to find anything comparable to situation facing farmers today. Three continuous years of below-average precipitation in many parts of the country have severely depleted rivers, streams and water tables. Many areas of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are abnormally dry. In Texas, the Rio Grande is at an historic low, prompting an international water dispute with Mexico. The situation is particularly acute in the western Plains states and along the Rocky Mountains, prompting ranchers to sell off their herds of livestock. Mountain snow packs are an important natural water reserve since they release winter precipitation as they melt in the spring and summer. This year, according to the National Drought Center, snow packs in the region are at only three to ten percent of their normal levels.
As many farmers struggle to plant this year’s crop in very dry conditions, in other areas there is too much rain. In June, floods in Minnesota wreaked havoc for farmers struggling to complete the spring planting; recent reports indicate a 70 percent crop loss in ten counties. This spring, West Virginia recorded its second „100 Year Flood” in as many years. For farm families already stressed by low prices and economic hardship, too much or too little precipitation can be a huge burden, one that has the potential to drive the family off their land.
„This year’s droughts and floods are so severe in some areas that many farmers won’t be able to harvest a crop or save their livestock,” said Willie Nelson, Farm Aid president. „We aim to make sure farmers get the help they need to stay on the land.”
Farm Aid and other groups are teaming up to help family farmers survive the weather disasters. The organization has activated its Family Farm Disaster Fund, which will provide farm families with emergency assistance to buy food, obtain legal, financial and emotional support through telephone hotlines, and provide one-on-one legal and financial advocacy to farmers in danger of losing their farms. Farm Aid and other groups are jointly hosting a series of national trainings aimed at strengthening a national network of farm advocates. The first of these trainings will take place in Madison, Wisconsin, in July.
„Farm advocates work one-on-one with farm families, accompanying them through an often difficult maze to access federal disaster and other aid programs,” said Mark Smith, Farm Aid campaign director. „Getting timely information and assistance to farmers about available resources often makes the difference for farmers striving to stay on their farms.”
These weather disasters could not come at a worse time for America’s family farmers, who are already dealing with declining commodity prices and rising production costs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says this year’s winter wheat harvest is the smallest in over two decades, a forerunner of the potential disaster that awaits farmers in disaster areas this summer and fall.