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Archive for Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Growing number of counties seek disaster aid

October 8, 2003

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— With more crops now in the bin, Kansas farmers are getting a better idea of the damage caused by the summer drought.

Crop losses from the 22 Kansas counties seeking a federal drought disaster declaration range from as high as 100 percent to as low as 10 percent, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

Brian and Carolyn Dunn, of St. John, are among the farmers who cut their dryland corn for silage because it was so badly damaged. Although the couple's irrigated corn is faring better, their irrigation costs were much higher this year because of the drought and high energy costs.

"It probably was even drier this year than last year during critical points of the growing season," Carolyn Dunn said. "In some ways it was a worse year this year than last year."

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius already has requested a drought disaster declaration for Morton County from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

The additional 22 counties reporting crop losses high enough to make them eligible for a drought declaration will be considered by the state emergency board at its Oct. 21 meeting.

A federal drought declaration would make farmers in those counties eligible for low-interest loans.

After last year's drought, all but three Kansas counties were declared drought disaster areas. The three remaining counties were entitled to the same assistance because they were contiguous to declared counties.

Counties with qualifying crop losses reported to date include Allen, Atchison, Coffey, Decatur, Doniphan, Finney, Geary, Graham, Grant, Hodgeman, Lane, Leavenworth, Marshall, Phillips, Rawlins, Riley, Rooks, Scott, Sheridan, Trego, Washington and Wyandotte.

The number of Kansas counties asking for a disaster declaration is expected to rise as more crops are harvested.

Kansas farmers have so far harvested 71 percent of the state's corn crop, according to Monday's crop update from the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service. They have also cut 10 percent of the soybeans, 25 percent of the milo and 27 percent of the sunflowers.

In addition to the drought designation, state officials are lobbying Congress to approve another drought disaster aid package for farmers.

Last year, the Bush administration took the position that if farmers were to get disaster assistance it would come from other budget offsets.

"They have the same stance this year. It gets increasingly difficult to find budget offsets, especially the way the budget is this year," said Sue Schulte, spokeswoman for the Kansas Corn Growers Assn.

In Stafford County where the Dunns live, all dryland crops were stressed. The couple is planting their 2004 wheat crop and have yet to harvest their milo crop.

Carolyn Dunn, 32, and Brian Dunn, 33, have been married for three years. He has been farming nine years.

To survive the downside of crop cycles, they use a variety of risk management tools such as the commodity future's market and crop insurance, Carolyn Dunn said.

They also have a more diversified operation. Their bountiful wheat crop has helped them weather the more difficult fall harvest, and their cattle operation is enjoying record high beef prices.

"We are younger than a lot of farmers around. I think we probably have a more progressive mind-set by function of being the age we are," Carolyn Dunn said. "We look at those risk management instruments as something critical to our long-term viability."

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