Kingman Sen. Pat Roberts and Kansas farm leaders toured drought-ravaged Kansas on Wednesday, witnessing firsthand the toll this summer’s unrelenting triple-digit temperatures have taken on portions of the state: Irrigated corn growing under the center pivot that’s fared so poorly it was good only to cut for silage, and dryland corn left to decompose in the field.
The drought tour also revealed struggling crops in Reno County, where an alfalfa field yielded only one cutting with two or three bales, rather than the a typical three to four cuttings with dozens of bales.
Outside the tour bus where the Republican senator from Kansas rode along with state officials and reporters, the temperature had already reached 106 degrees. It was a far cry from the air-conditioned comfort of the Hilton Wichita Airport Hotel where today Roberts and other members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will meet to hear testimony from Kansans about the 2012 Farm Bill.
Roberts, the ranking member of that committee, was joined on the drought tour by representatives of the Kansas Water Office, the state Department of Agriculture and the state climatologist. His tour guide, farmer Chad Basinger, pointed out the Conservation Reserve Program fields that had been baled or grazed — a welcomed addition at a time of tight hay supplies amid the drought.
So far, the drought has cost Kansas $1.6 billion dollars in lost revenue, Roberts said.
“If there is anything we want to preserve and strengthen, it is crop insurance,” Roberts said, adding that the tour demonstrates why farmers need a farm safety net.
State climatologist Mary Knapp told people on the tour that September through October is winter wheat planting time in Kansas, and if the state does not get any precipitation there is no residual moisture left to plant wheat this fall.
Today, Roberts will be in Wichita with other members of the Senate agriculture committee for a morning hearing that has been dubbed “Looking Ahead: Kansas and the 2012 Farm Bill.” The hearing is one of several field hearings held by the committee to hear testimony across the country as it drafts new farm legislation amid a cost-cutting mood in Washington, D.C.