U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Governor Sam Brownback today brought together state, local and federal government officials, along with representatives from the agriculture industry, to talk about the effects of the drought across Kansas and how best to coordinate assistance for local farmers and ranchers.
Today's meeting is the latest effort by Kansas officials to provide timely and efficient response to ensure agricultural producers have the resources they need to cope with the drought.
Due to votes in Washington, D.C., Sen. Roberts participated in the meeting via video conference. Gov. Brownback was joined at the conference in Topeka at the Kansas Board of Regents by: Secretary Dale Rodman, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Director Tracy Streeter, Kansas Water Office; Rebecca Davis, USDA Risk Management Agency, Adrian Polansky, USDA Farm Service Agency; Mary Knapp, Kansas State Climatologist; Dennis Schwartz, Kansas Rural Water Association; Steve Baccus, Kansas Farm Bureau; Mike Beam, Kansas Livestock Association; Tom Tunnell, Kansas Grain & Feed Association and Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association.
Sen. Roberts will act immediately on the governor's request to contact the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the release of flood control water to help navigation needs downstream. Currently, Kansas reservoirs are being tapped for very little gain.
On Sen. Roberts' website is a page dedicated entirely to drought resources. It can be found here or at roberts.senate.gov. It includes links to federal and state resources for those suffering from drought conditions. He also released a public service announcement last week, urging Kansans to call their Farm Service Agency office for immediate assistance. The PSA can be found here.
Sen. Roberts' prepared remarks from the conference are below:
Thank you for you for being here today -- I know we all share the same concerns about this drought and the impact it's having on our state and our economy.
The goal of this roundtable is to discuss with you how local, state, federal and private resources are working together in response to the crisis.
I apologize I cannot be there in person, but the Senate is in session today so I appreciate the opportunity to join Governor Brownback and this panel via video conference.
We have a great team of experts who have taken time out of their schedules to come together to provide an up-to-the-minute update on conditions across the state.
First, thank you Governor Sam Brownback for being such a stalwart leader for our farmers and ranchers at this time. I know you've been on the ground, leading several drought tours across Kansas and we're eager to hear your report and perspective.
Joining the governor on his tours with boots on the ground, I am pleased to welcome Secretary Dale Rodman of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, and Tracey Streeter -- Director of the Kansas Water Office.
Thank you to Rebecca Davis -- with USDA Risk Management Agency, and Adrian Polansky-- USDA Farm Service Agency, for the extraordinary efforts you both have provided.
We are also joined by Mary Knapp -- the Kansas State Climatologist whose office is at K-State in Manhattan.
We also have Dennis Schwartz of the Kansas Rural Water Association .Dennis, we know you have your hands full right now.
Representing the agriculture industry and their prospective producers, Steve Bauccus with the Kansas Farm Bureau, Mike Beam with Kansas Livestock Association, and Tom Tunnel with Kansas Grain & Feed Association and Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association.
Let me start with a brief overview of the actions we have taken at the federal level -- then I'll turn it over to Governor Brownback for his report and then on to the discussion.
Finally, we will leave a few minutes to answer questions from the press. The press has done a great job in reporting on this weather disaster and I am hopeful our discussion today will provide even more timely information to Kansans.
Folks, I'm not sure what we have done to Mother Nature -- but she's certainly not been good to us recently. Ninety five percent of Kansas is suffering from severe drought -- in some places, it's a drought that rivals the 1930s.
Every county is affected by these severe conditions. In fact, the USDA-FSA has allowed emergency haying and grazing of CRP lands to 104 out of 105 of our counties.
At the federal level I am doing all I can to help our farmers and ranchers who are struggling with these dry conditions.
After last year's drought I heard from producers loud and clear, crop insurance is the best protection for those dealing with Mother Nature. We strengthened crop insurance in the Senate version of the Farm Bill.
For our livestock producers, I was pleased to see USDA streamline the disaster declaration process to ensure they have the help they need immediately.
We still have much to do to ensure farmers and ranchers have the tools they need to keep in operation during the tough times like extended periods of drought.
I have created a page on my website dedicated entirely to drought. It includes links to many of the resources that you all have provided for those suffering from drought conditions. If any of the groups here today have additional public information, please let me know and we will add it to the website.
As the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, I along with members of the Ag Committee have sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack to highlight several opportunities for USDA to deliver assistance to those in need and ask for the Administration to take action. Each of you should have already received a copy of the letter; it can also be found on my drought website.
Among our requests, we have asked the secretary to release all Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for emergency haying and grazing by waiving the nesting period restrictions that remain in place in certain states. This includes the CP-25 practice as well as others.
We also requested that USDA facilitate the donation of hay harvested on CRP acres to livestock producers seeking forage.
I have asked my entire committee staff and my agriculture representatives -- Mel Thompson in Wichita and Wayne Stoskopf in Washington -- to continue to look for avenues that may assistant our farmers and ranchers during this disaster.
I want to thank everyone for joining me today. I look forward to your comments and suggestions.