Nebraska's farmers and ranchers have weathered many storms. Over the years, they've tamed and tilled land once dubbed the Great American Desert, developing it into one of the most fertile food-producing areas in the world. It should come as no surprise that one in five steaks or hamburgers comes from Nebraska, and more than 10 percent of all corn produced in the United States can literally trace its roots to the Cornhusker State.
But in recent months, a lack of rainfall, coupled with intense heat, has plunged the Heartland into a historic drought that has farmers and ranchers rightfully concerned about how their crops and livestock will survive and how that will affect their families and communities.
While traveling across Nebraska, I've witnessed firsthand the drought-stricken fields and pastures stretching from Scottsbluff to the Missouri River. I recently visited the National Drought Mitigation Center, where a consortium of experts is monitoring every aspect of the drought's impact--from livestock welfare to insect populations. Their comprehensive coverage provides risk management information and best practices for those coping with the lack of moisture. They also offer informed suggestions to state and federal officials on how to assist through thoughtful policy.
I contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on multiple occasions to ensure necessary actions are taken to help relieve pressure on producers. In response, USDA opened some Conservation Reserve Program lands for emergency haying and grazing. Additionally, farmers in counties with USDA disaster designations may be eligible for low-interest Farm Service Agency loans to help them get through this difficult time. Contact your local USDA office at www.fsa.usda.gov or 402-437-5581 if either of these opportunities might be helpful to you.
Despite these efforts, more should be done. I was disheartened that the Senate opted to go home without extending much-needed fiscally-responsible disaster relief for farmers and ranchers across the country. Once again, politics is obstructing productivity. Helping those impacted by Mother Nature should be nonpartisan, so I don't see why some in Washington are so determined to delay assistance for those who feed and fuel America.
Ag producers are depending on Congress to pass a farm bill this year. I've repeatedly heard from Nebraskans that crop insurance is the best protection against damaging weather. I supported the Senate-passed farm bill, which strengthens crop insurance provisions and extends disaster assistance programs for livestock producers, which expired last fall. The House of Representatives needs to approve a farm bill that does so when Congress resumes session in September.
The benefits of ensuring adequate risk management tools for our ag producers reach far beyond the farm. Agriculture is the engine that largely fuels our state's economy. The $17 billion-a-year industry in Nebraska accounts for more than 31 percent of all jobs across the state. Clearly, the strength of our state's economy depends on the ability of our farmers and ranchers to do what they do best, even in the worst of conditions.
I will continue to monitor the ongoing drought and push for responsible efforts to reduce strain on our producers. For more information on the drought, and my work to provide assistance to Nebraska's farmers and ranchers, visit my website: www.johanns.senate.gov.