The Drought of '88 is now the Drought of '89 in parts of the Central Plains, and farmers and stockmen are worried as dry conditions worsen and Congress fails to provide help this year.
"I guess they haven't decided yet we have a disaster," said central Kansas wheat farmer Darwin McCall.Drought conditions have led experts to predict the Kansas winter wheat crop will only make around 200 million bushels, 123 million bushels fewer than last year, despite a 22 percent increase in acres seeded. The projected harvest is about half what the crop should have yielded based on the 12.4 million acres planted in the fall.
Analysts say that translates into a $500 million to $800 million loss to the Kansas economy. Reduced harvests also are expected in Nebraska, eastern Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.
The first official Agriculture Department estimate of the 1989 winter wheat crop was released Thursday afternoon.
The Kansas Livestock Association, the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Farmers Union have written repeatedly to Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter seeking help.
The groups are asking for several breaks for cattlemen.
"It would be hard to overstate the severity of the current situation and the need for an extremely rapid decision on these requests," said Warren Weibert, president of the livestock association.
Because there isn't enough pasture or hay, Kansas cattlemen are selling off cows they use to produce calves for beef slaughter. Many stockmen have spent years building the genetics in their herds.
Many producers and Kansas farm groups favor extending the provisions of the $3.9 billion 1988 drought relief bill to cover 1989 losses.
Yeutter was asked to take that step by administrative action. He refused, saying it was up to Congress to act. Several House measures have been introduced, and a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee has scheduled hearings in Texas and Kansas May 19 and 20.
"The '89 drought is simply an extension of the '88 drought. We feel farmers in the Midwest should receive the same consideration for disaster payments in 1989 that corn farmers in the western Corn Belt received in 1988," said Ivan Wyatt, president of the Kansas Farmers Union.