Drought's Effects Keep Expanding

Aug 23, 2012
Originally published on August 23, 2012 4:23 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This summer's drought is not helping the wildfire situation, and the drought is also deeply harming the nation's agricultural economy. Parched lands extend from California to Indiana, and from Texas to South Dakota, impacting everyone from farmers and ranchers to barge operators and commodity traders.

As NPR's David Schaper reports, some farmers are getting close to calling it quits.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Looking over his small, 100-acre farm near South Union, Kentucky, Rich Vernon doesn't like what he sees.

RICH VERNON: I'm walking on dry grass right now. Just brown, dry grass.

SCHAPER: Vernon says the intense drought has left nothing for his cattle and other livestock to eat but cropped weeds, so to feed them...

VERNON: I go to another county and buy hay. Everything that those cattle get now has to be bought. And I used to be able to raise it all myself. So basically, every day that I own cattle or sheep or horses or anything, anymore, is a day where I'm losing ground, losing money.

SCHAPER: Vernon is considering selling half his herd, but he's not alone. Many livestock producers are selling cattle and that's depressing prices - meaning, if he does sell, Rich Vernon, who shared his story with NPR's TALK OF THE NATION Wednesday, might not get enough money to cover all of his bills.

VERNON: My wife and I just look at each other every night and we look at our children's faces before they go to sleep, and we wonder, will this be one of the last days?

SCHAPER: Vernon is praying for a miracle - and he hopes federal disaster aid might help him hang onto his farm. His home county in Kentucky is one of dozens in the state declared a federal disaster area.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, yesterday, added another 23 counties to that disaster list, which now includes well over half the counties in the nation.

Brad Rippey is an agriculture meteorologist with the USDA. He says recent rains and cooler temperatures in some parts of the Midwest haven't helped much.

BRAD RIPPEY: The damage has really already been done. We have almost 60 percent of the U.S. pastures and range land in very poor to poor condition. We have the worst crop ratings for corn since 1988. We've broken a record for soybean ratings, very poor to poor; 39 percent was the peak earlier this month.

SCHAPER: Those poor crop ratings are leading to near record high prices, but that's not really good news, either, to farmers who's crop yields may be half or less than normal.

MIKE ZUZOLO: Almost everyone gets hurt.

SCHAPER: Mike Zuzolo is president of Global Commodity Analytics.

ZUZOLO: The implement companies, the fertilizer producers, the grain elevators, they are also hurt because they have fewer bushels to sell.

SCHAPER: Even those who may have successful crops in the nation's heartland may be hurt by the drought as they may have trouble shipping those crops to market. Barges on the Mississippi River are running aground and portions of the river are being closed, intermittently, for drudging as water levels get dangerously low in many spots.

David Schaper, NPR News. Chicago.

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