Long-term solutions for farmers after drought

Long-term solutions for farmers after drought
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POSTED: Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 4:16pm

UPDATED: Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 4:17pm

(CNN) -- The news of the devastating drought of 2012 has overwhelmed the press with stories of hardship, despair, pain and suffering. Now federal and state governments are stepping in to "help the farmers."

Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture announced plans to buy up to $170 million of beef, pork, lamb and catfish to "help farmers in drought stricken areas." But from whom do they actually buy that meat? And does it help a farmer or family who may be your neighbor?

The USDA will soon put out requests for quotes for large quantities of meat, and many large packers and wholesalers will bid. It is unlikely that any farmer facing the hardship of how to keep their animals alive because of lack of water or forage will be the recipient of that money, or will decide to keep their animals instead of dumping them.

They may see the auction prices for their animals tick upward a bit, but that is if they want to sell now, or dump their animals and get out. The U.S. will clean out old inventory of beef, pork, lamb and catfish in the large freezers of corporate packers and wholesalers, and it will go to federal food nutrition assistance programs.

Buying meat and fish from the major packing houses and wholesalers to be used in government food programs and schools is noble but hardly helps a farmer or solves a problem. It does, however, make for great headlines.

See if you can find a family farmer who lives near you who benefits from $170 million dollars being spent on meat in a freezer somewhere large enough for tractor trailers to back into. Will this prevent them from having to sell their cattle? Will it assist with the next note payment on the farm, or pay for new irrigation, automatic livestock waterers, or drilling new wells?

This is hardly the last drought America will see and we don't have to think back far to the last. American farmland is becoming more temperate and water is becoming ever more elusive.

The federal government has a program called the Livestock Indemnity Program which provides cash payments to eligible producers for livestock death losses in excess of normal mortality due to adverse weather. Why would they pay for dead animals instead of paying to keep them alive and not address the problem?

If the problem is water to keep animals alive and healthy, the government should invest in infrastructure to address the long term problem, instead of reacting to a short term dip in cattle, pork, lamb and catfish prices. Farmers could stay in business for the long haul instead of encouraging them to sell their livestock for a short term gain, or less of a loss.

It was encouraging to see Governor Nixon of the state of Missouri investing in building new wells for farmers. That is how you keep a family farm in business during this drought, and the next one, and the one after that.

Next spring, when the drought of 2012 has been forgotten by most non-farmers, how long will it be before we hear the next news story about a drought impacting farmers, their families, and our food supply?

If there is to be a real commitment to helping American farmers, it must focus on long term solutions: protecting fertile farmland from the hands of development, addressing climate change on American farmlands so that farmers can humanely care for livestock and helping families stay in farming during and after disasters.

Helping farmers who have been hurt by the drought is not easy. It requires looking at a farmer in the eyes, learning their story, then determining how to keep them in business so they can provide food for another generation.

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