Ignored again: Federal aid going elsewhere

Friday, June 9, 2006

We're being ignored again, and it's our own fault.

Midwesterners in general, and Nebraskans in particular, are known for their dry wit and stoic understatement, and for the most part, we're proud of it.

But this time, we're paying for our quiet demeanor.

Sen. Ben Nelson had the right idea, when he gave our current drought a name -- Drought David -- to try to focus national attention in a way normally reserved for disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

But because it's such a slow-motion cataclysm, federal aid, that could have kept farms and the businesses that serve them in business, is going to noisier calamities.

Early Wednesday, negotiators, working on a $94.5 billion compromise federal spending bill, cut $4 billion in farm disaster aid, sending the money instead to the Iraq war and hurricane relief.

Overall, $14 billion was eliminated from a version of the emergency measure the Senate passed last month, which would have paid farmers and ranchers for losses due to drought, flooding, disease and other disasters. It also would have provided an increase in subsidies to offset the high cost of energy, fertilizer and feed.

Pending continued negotiations, the bill would include about $500 million for Gulf Coast farmers hurt by last year's hurricanes.

Gov. Dave Heineman, in town today as part of a statewide drought tour, won't have to look far to see some of the results of the ongoing dry weather, compounded by high winds.

Cow-calf producers have begun selling off their herds, and if the Nebraska wheat harvest is anything like Kansas', growers can expect half the crop they got last year.

Thursday, the USDA decided to allow farmers in Hayes, Hitchcock and Custer counties to use conservation reserve program land for grazing and emergency hay production beginning July 15. And, officials are asking the same for other area counties.

Even then, however, it's doubtful how much help that would be.

McCook has received only a little over 4 inches of rain so far this year, almost 5 inches below normal for this date. At this rate, we would have to receive a third of an inch of rain a day to get back to normal by July 1.

And even normal precipitation will do little to replenish groundwater supplies sucked dry by years of drought.

Clearly, we need long-term solutions to our problem, in what we produce, how we produce it, how much water it takes and where the water comes from.

Until then, we need to find a way to get Washington's attention.

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