Kansas financial aid meant to help farmers cope with drought running dry

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. - This summer's drought left many farmers without a decent crop. For those raising livestock, there is little water in their ponds.

In Kansas, state money is helping some. But many more farmers, like Mike Pierron, are left high and dry.

"I've been in cattle for 55 years, and this is the worst year I've ever had, condition-wise," said Pierron, who ranches in southern Johnson County.

One of Pierron's ponds has been bone dry since last summer, and the second pond it feeds has very little water left. The lack of rain has forced Pierron to sell a quarter of his cattle herd. Now he has to haul in purchased water to keep his remaining animals alive.

Pierron said it would take around 15 inches of rain to refill the ponds. Before that precipitation, Pierron needs to clean the ponds by scraping away the excess mud and dirt that's piled up.

His problem is far from unique.

"It's affected almost every pond in the county. I can't think of anyone who isn't low on water," said Gayla Speer, Johnson County Conservation District manager.

There's a huge demand for aid across Kansas. The state has made nearly $1.1 million available through a cost-share program, giving an individual farmer up to $2,000. Unfortunately, Speer said Kansas has fielded around $7 million in requests for aid.

"I know they are still trying to find funds because there was such a need," Speer said, "but like all government entities, finding funds is pretty tight right now."

The Kansas Department of Agriculture said it is working with watershed districts across the state to fund more projects.

Pierron said he will complete his projects, estimated at $5,000, without the state aid.

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