Roberts takes farm-drought tour

KINGMAN — Sen. Pat Roberts and Kansas farm leaders toured drought-ravaged parts of the state Wednesday, witnessing firsthand the toll this summer's unrelenting triple-digit temperatures have taken.

In Kingman County, irrigated corn growing under the center pivot fared so poorly it was good only to cut for silage, and dryland corn was 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 typical three to four cuttings with dozens of bales.

Outside the tour bus where Roberts 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 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 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 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's Senate committee hears 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.

"Ag has had a big bull's-eye on its back," Roberts said. "It has been unwarranted."

Agriculture-related spending comprises less than a quarter of a percent of the total federal budget, he said.

Roberts said agriculture will do "its part" in helping cut the budget deficit, but he wants to do the cutting with a scalpel, not an axe.

The farm bill, which is typically passed every five years, provides many types of support, including for crops and nutrition programs.