Brownback: Drought causes $1.5B in crop loss this year

TOPEKA, Kan. - As the severe drought across the heartland stretches into day 57, Kansas state leaders held an urgent meeting Wednesday to address the needs of the state's suffering agriculture industry.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback brought together representatives from federal, state and local agencies to assess the damage and share ways to coupe.

The governor declared all 105 Kansas counties as disaster areas and estimated the loss of Kansas crops to be $1.5 billion. 

Brownback explained the damage has a trickle effect. The lack of crops meant cattle farmers had no way to feed their livestock.

Mike Baccus, president of the Kansas Farm Bureau and a farmer himself, was emotional when addressing Brownback and Roberts and said the drought will affect every person's wallet.

"If we start liquidating cowherds, you cant imagine how much money the consumer's going to have to pay for beef prices," Baccus said.

Beef product prices could rise anywhere from four to five percent because of the drought, according to government estimates.

The prices of chicken, turkey and dairy products are also expected to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent later this year.

Several the leaders at the meeting mentioned numerous times the importance of crop insurance.

"Frankly if it wasn't for crop insurance, you would lose a big chunk of the farmers across the state of Kansas," Baccus said.  "If you do that, you can start importing your food."

U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management official Rebecca Davis said during 2011's drought, the USDA paid out more than $1 billion in crop insurance claims.  Projections for 2012 were not available.

For Johnson County corn and bean farmer Larry Stricker, crop insurance is the only thing keeping him employed.  He said his 350 acres of corn will likely produce about a third of what's expected.

"It's sad. It's just said," Stricker said. "It's going to be one of them years that goes down in history...probably one of the worse ones ever.  It's just part of farming. You just got to take the chances, but it's going to take deep pockets to keep this going."

Climatologist Mary Knapp spoke at the meeting about the science behind the weather pattern.  She said the effects of the drought are going beyond the farm. Plants, golf courses and orchards are losing water to evaporation at almost 2 inches a week.

She said it will take years for all of these areas to recover if water loss continues at this rate.

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