Last summer, many across Nebraska met Mother Nature face to face with the flooding of the Missouri, Platte, and Niobrara Rivers. Though the flood damage is still evident, it showed us the resourcefulness and resilience of Nebraskans and just how far we're willing to go to help our neighbors. I am still amazed and proud of how Nebraskans came together as a state and in their communities. This summer, the problem isn't too much water -- it's not enough. Nebraskans once again are coming together.
Every county in our state has been declared to be in "a state of severe drought," an especially troublesome problem for a state which plays such a leading role in agriculture. I remain in close contact with state officials monitoring the drought and have reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on multiple occasions to ensure a proper response.
So far the response has been swift. After I wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, asking him to allow emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands, he authorized it within a few days. I also asked him to act on the Nebraska State Farm Service Agency's (FSA) request for an additional 58 Nebraska counties to be given Secretarial Disaster Designations. This would qualify producers in those counties on a case-by-case basis for emergency, low-interest FSA loans to help them get over the hump of this trying year. Again he acted quickly.
I channeled my concerns through Congress last week, as five of my colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee and I wrote Secretary Vilsack asking him to sharpen USDA's focus on the drought. Producers should be kept apprised of crop insurance rules for drought situations and livestock operations need assistance to sustain their herds. USDA would do well to consider all options available to give our ag producers flexibility during such an historic drought.
North central Nebraska has faced extreme wildfires as a result of the drought. These fires have burned through more than 72,000 acres of land in Keya Paha, Brown, and Cherry Counties. Once again the resourcefulness, bravery, and skill of Nebraskans are evident. More than 500 first responders have contained a majority of the fires, and this containment increases daily. Many have traveled hundreds of miles, including some from across state lines, to lend a hand. Our state is grateful to them, and they remain in my thoughts and prayers.
It is never easy when Mother Nature throws us a curveball, and for some it has been downright devastating. Though we still have work to do, it is refreshing to see the response has been top-notch and the commitment from volunteer individuals and communities inspirational.
I will continue working at the federal level to advocate for passage of the farm bill, which is currently under consideration in the House of Representatives. This bill would bring much-needed certainty to many producers impacted by the drought.
I am confident our communities and our state will get through this just as we did the flooding last year, and drought in past years. Nebraskans are a resilient bunch and you can bet we'll take care of one another.