Oklahoma agriculture needs help
The recent action by the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) to declare 76 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties as agriculture disasters areas due to the ongoing drought is a good start but more needs to be done according to Joe Parker, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).
Parker said that while any action to provide assistance to Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers during this record dry weather is good news, the drought continues to deepen and the potential for crisis continues to grow.
“Any help for Oklahoma agriculture producers during this time of record drought is definitely appreciated,” Parker said. “I’m concerned though that this drought is going to hang on through the spring and summer. It’s critical that our farmers and ranchers have all the tools necessary to get through this record dry weather. This declaration is a step in the right direction but we also need Congress and our State Legislature to step up to the plate to help get us through this critical time. We may have gotten a little bit of rain this week, but nowhere near what we need to break the drought. We need help.”
On January 9, United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated 597 counties in 14 states as primary natural disaster areas due to drought and heat, including 76 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. The declaration makes all qualified farm operators in designated areas eligible for low interest emergency loans. Only Ottowa County in far Northeast Oklahoma was excluded from the declaration.
According to Parker, the help provided by this declaration should serve as a challenge for further action by State and Federal lawmakers to address the critical needs created by the ongoing drought.
“We need a drought package from the State of Oklahoma to help agriculture and fire protection,” Parker said. “We need additional cost-share dollars to help producers get water to livestock. We need additional dollars to help address soil erosion issues, especially if this drought deepens through the winter and spring. We need cost-share dollars to help producers repair pastures. We need resources to help irrigators convert to more efficient systems to reduce water use. We need help in fighting the eastern red cedar and other invasive plant species that suck up water and create fire danger. Fire departments need resources to help replace equipment that has been lost fighting fires in 2012 and to prepare for the fires that will come in 2013. We need the state to seriously consider investing resources to help us combat the effects of this drought.”
In addition to state action, Parker said this disaster announcement shows again the need for a full five-year Farm Bill, especially those parts of the Farm Bill that deal with disaster and conservation.
“It is amazing to me that we are in the middle of the worst drought our nation has seen since the 1930s and Congress has still not reauthorized the Farm Bill,” Parker said. “It’s incredible that during the debate over the fiscal cliff, no consideration was given to helping farmers and ranchers, especially livestock producers, that have been stricken by this drought. It’s also clear to me that many of our Federal lawmakers never learned about the Dust Bowl in history class, otherwise they would know that without conservation programs to help protect our soil, especially during a drought, we run the risks of repeating the mistakes of the past. We can only hope this disaster declaration by USDA helps jump start discussions at both the State and Federal level on what we need to do to get through this record drought.”