Mike Simpson Statement before House Committee on Agriculture Regarding Disaster Conditions in Idaho 2007
Good afternoon, Chairman Peterson, Ranking Member Goodlatte, and members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Committee to discuss the ongoing disaster conditions in Idaho.
Mr. Chairman, Idaho's agriculture producers are facing significant trials due to catastrophic fires and severe drought. This summer Idaho experienced some of the worst wildfires on record. Over two million acres burned and fifteen counties were declared disaster areas. The Murphy Complex fire alone scorched over 600,000 acres, much of which was grazing land used by Idaho ranchers. As a result of losing these grazing lands some ranchers were forced to sell their entire herd. Other ranchers lost livestock to the fire itself. Many were left with no alternative grazing allotments to which they could move their livestock.
While the federal government has been responsive to these ranchers by allowing emergency grazing and haying on CRP lands, I am concerned that these accommodations will be short-lived. However, the effects of the Murphy fire will be felt by ranchers for years to come because grazing will not be allowed on these lands until the monitoring objectives of the BLM's Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Plan are complete. Under this plan less than one-sixth of the affected land is scheduled for rehabilitation this season.
These fires were so disastrous in part because of the prolonged drought Idaho is experiencing. This summer was too hot and too dry for too long. This drought is affecting the profitability of agriculture producers, and even the existence of their farms. Idaho narrowly avoided water shortages this year. If Idaho does not receive significant snowfall this winter farmers will face serious shortages of irrigation water next summer. If this happens, water experts estimate that over tens of thousands of farm acres will not have access to any water next year.
The combination of the heat and the lack of water caused a significant reduction in yield, quality, and size of Idaho's potato crop. Also, many of Idaho's wheat and barley producers are unable to take advantage of the record high grain prices because they simply have nothing to sell.
I have seen barley fields in my district that appeared harvested because there were simply no heads on the plant. They never grew. Many growers decided not to bother harvesting what crop there was because it wasn't worth the price of fuel to run their equipment over the field - even at $10 per bushel.
In some cases grain producers who had their crop forward-contracted at $4-$5 per bushel found themselves unable to fill their contract and had to buy grain at $9-$10 per bushel to fulfill their contract commitments.
Idaho farmers can often address things like viruses or pests by applying fertilizers or pesticides, but these natural disasters are beyond their control. Whether its floods, hurricanes, or fires, our nation has traditionally responded with aid to those affected by natural disasters. While Idahoans affected by these disasters may not be as visible as other disaster victims, their economic losses and the disruption of their lifestyles is no less tragic. The government has a responsibility to come to the assistance of these people and work to put a safety net below responsible growers who have fallen victim to these circumstances.
Once again Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Committee to discuss these important issues and welcome any questions you may have.