- Jim Chamberlin
Local Support Available for Farmers During the Drought
I write this in the midst of one of the most severe droughts to hit our region in decades. Field crops without irrigation are dead or dying, and pastures stopped producing weeks ago as the soil dried. When I drive around our rural landscape, I often see pastures that are grazed short, with little residual vegetation. Overgrazing is a recipe for failure, especially in a drought. Overgrazed pastures take longer to recover and the resulting compaction and lack of residual vegetation inhibits water infiltration, and increases runoff of valuable rainfall. They are more susceptible to drought.
But there comes a point in a drought when even the best managed lands, and the healthiest soils, can no longer support plant growth. Most producers in our area hit that point in June or July this year and have been forced to sell animals, quite often at a loss, or buy expensive feed. For farmers and ranchers in this situation there is some help. The United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency has some disaster assistance programs to help producers during this crisis. They can be found at their website:
Specific to livestock producers, the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) provides payments to eligible livestock owners and contract growers who have covered
livestock and who are also producers of grazed forage crop acreage (native and improved pasture land with permanent vegetative cover). The USDA also has an Emergency Loan program to help farmers and ranchers recover from production and physical losses due to drought, flooding, other natural disasters or losses, along with other programs listed on their website. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has a long list of drought resources on their website: Though not directly drought related, Cass County farm businesses can apply for assistance through the County for American Recovery Assistance Plan dollars, which provides funds to support businesses in recovering from the pandemic. The application can be found here:
Watching helplessly while your work and livelihood shrivel in the field is mentally draining. Farming is inherently stressful and a crisis like we’re seeing with the current drought increases the stress farmers face. If you know a farmer or rancher, check on them. Learn the warning signs of suicide, like giving away possessions, self isolation, or talk of harming themselves. Ask them hard questions and offer hope. Studies have shown that asking people about suicidal thoughts and behaviors does not cause or increase such thoughts. Asking someone directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” can be the best way to identify someone at risk for suicide. Persuade them to seek help and refer them to resources. MN Department of Agriculture has several resources for stress and crisis specific to the farming community on their website:
I saw a post on Facebook after one of the few rains we received this summer. It said simply, “And the earth sighed”, and had a picture of their rain soaked backyard. Healthy soil is defined as the ability of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem. When I read the post, I imagined all the soil microbes taking a big drink and breathing a big sigh of relief, fueling the smell of newly fallen rain. Nature is resilient, as are farmers, if given the chance. It will rain again, and when it does, those soils supporting a vital living ecosystem will drink and breathe. Then they will go to work.
Contact us for resources to support the vital living ecosystem on your farm.