Severe drought triggers aid in nearly all of Kansas, half of Missouri

Severe drought triggers aid in nearly all of Kansas, half of Missouri

Severe drought triggers aid in nearly all of Kansas, half of Missouri

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Credit above image: A federal program designed to help ranchers facing drought has been activated in more than 80 of Kansas’ 105 counties. (Scott Olson | Getty Images).

Almost all of Kansas and almost half of Missouri are there severe enough drought to activate a federal program meant to help ranchers who lost acres of grazing land for their herds, sparking millions of dollars in aid.

Eighty-five of Kansas’ 105 counties were eligible for USDA selection feed program, which offers financial assistance to livestock farmers in severe, extreme or exceptional drought. In Missouri, 47 counties were eligible as of last week.

Kansas and Missouri — along with most of the US — did affected by stubborn drought two state governors declared a state of emergency. Most of southern Kansas is in extreme or exceptional drought.

“You go outside every day and within five minutes your ears, nose and mouth are full of dust,” said Dennis McKinney, state executive director of the Kansas Farm Bureau and a rancher. “It becomes very discouraging.”

Kansas has been in a drought for months. The fodder program has been activated in some counties for almost a year, and all 105 counties are under drought watch, warning or emergency executive order signed by Governor Laura Kelly.

During the summer, dry conditions fueled Missouri Governor Mike Parson will declare a drought warning in 53 Missouri counties south of the Missouri River. Within weeks this summer, 40 counties became eligible for the USDA program. Another handful joined them earlier this month.

In Kansas, McKinney said, the service ended its fiscal year last month by processing more than 7,700 requests for assistance, totaling more than $45 million.

The cash assistance helps ranchers whose grass has dried up to buy hay to feed their cows or lease pastures.

A year earlier, McKinney said, only the northwest part of the state was in serious drought. In a normal year, his office processes fewer than 1,000 claims for less than $1 million.

The current drought is not yet as bad as the record drought of 2012 that killed a million cattle in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, but if things don’t change, they will be, McKinney said.

He didn’t have figures on how many cattle died from the drought, but McKinney said many more were sent to slaughter because ranchers ran out of grass and didn’t want to pay high feed prices.

“Some ranchers are determined to maintain their herd base and feed through this drought,” McKinney said, “because they know that replacement, later rebuilding with the right genetics is very expensive.”

McKinney said ranchers are experiencing severe stress, and his agency is asking county offices to post information about community mental health centers and prepare to distribute information on a new 9-8-8 suicide and crisis line.

“If you’re struggling, you’re not alone,” he said, “and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad producer.”

Allison Kite is a data reporter for the Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflectorwhere this story first appeared, with a focus on the environment and agriculture.

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