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Farmers Face Drought, Regulations

Steve Newberry of rural Argyle has been farming all of his life.  His farm is located down a winding, gravel road just a couple miles west of the Avenue of the Saints in Lee County.

Newberry says his farm has a little bit of everything, including about 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans, 150 head of cattle, and about 7,000 hogs split between two buildings.

He says his passion for farming starts with his love of cattle, likening it to someone who loves to go fishing.

Newberry reflects on one of the most difficult summers he has experienced while looking out over his farm on another scorching, hot July morning.

“1977 was bad… 1983 was bad… 1985 and 1988,” says Newberry, “but you have to see, this has been hotter than any of them I think.”

Newberry says the heat is especially difficult on livestock producers like himself.

“It has burned the grass up so there is grass out there, but the cows will not eat it,” says Newberry, “you can’t get the cows to milk so you have to supplement the feed there.  The hogs, even in these fancy buildings, it is hard to keep them cool and comfortable.  I don’t know how people could raise them outside right now.”

The high temperatures are also destroying Iowa’s corn crop as the USDA estimates that 40% of the state’s corn is in very poor-poor condition.


Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA 2) got an up-close look while visiting Steve Newberry’s farm as part of a four farm swing through the southern edge of his district.

The stops gave him an opportunity to tell farmers what is going on in Washington D.C.

The Congressman points to his decision to join a bi-partisan coalition that is pushing for a vote on the “Farm Bill,” which expires at the end of September.

He does not know if that will happen, though, before Congress goes on recess next month.

“Some on the Democratic side are opposed because of the really drastic cuts to the food stamp program,” says Rep. Loebsack, “and then there are some on the Republican side who simply don’t want any government involvement, whatsoever, they don’t want some of those programs that farmers need.”

Rep. Loebsack says Congress must also make the “Farm Bill” a five-year bill versus a simple one-year extension.

“There must be action on a reformed farm bill that will save money and also provide disaster assistance for farmers and livestock producers who are suffering from the current drought,” says Rep. Loebsack, adding that “Congress is again kicking the can down the road.  Our farmers and rural communities deserve more to help provide certainty for the long-term.”

The Congressman is also supporting legislation to extend about a half-dozen agriculture disaster assistance programs until the new farm bill is signed into law.


These types of programs did not seem to be the primary concerns, though, for the 15-or-so farmers who came to Steve Newberry’s farm to meet with the Congressman.

They wanted to talk about environmental regulations, in particular, the Conservation Reserve Program, which is land set aside for grasses and vegetation.

The farmers wanted to know why they could not use it to feed their animals during such a severe drought.

Executive Director John Whitaker with the Farm Service Agency says there are certain requirements that must be met before that can occur.

“What has to happen is we have to have a county that qualifies by being a 40% reduction in rainfall over a four-month average,” says Whitaker, “the state office confirms the figures and sends them to the national office, which re-confirms them before releasing the land for emergency grazing.”

Whitaker says the emergency haying is not allowed until the primary nesting season comes to an end in early August.

The farmers said those requirements should be relaxed during this drought.

There were also questions about crop insurance claims and about why the farm bill is not called the “food stamp bill.”

Steve Newberry also wanted to know what could be done to help young farmers get started amidst all of the regulations, in particular on hog operations and water run-off.

He says a good first step would be to get environmental regulators to come to Iowa’s farms.

“Get them to see how you can control the smell from the hogs and that there is no run-offs,” says Newberry, “and on the water thing, if you look out at that pond, there is not going to be much water there come winter and if it does not rain this winter, what will that mean for next summer.  That is really going to affect (us) big time, so they are going to have to get these environmentalists out here in the country with some common sense.”

Rep. Loebsack says while his focus is on drought relief, he expected to hear about environmental regulations.  He says he will look into ways to help local farmers with various agencies.

The biggest problem at the moment, though is the drought because the longer these hot and dry conditions linger, the less the regulations will affect a farmer who has no corn or beans or who must sell their livestock.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.