Congresswoman Martha Roby

Representing the 2nd District of Alabama

Drought adds to challenges facing our farmers

November 4, 2016
Representative Roby's Weekly Column

As you know, Alabama is in the midst of a drought of historic proportions. The latest assessment from the National Drought Mitigation Center showed that more than 65 percent of the state is now in extreme or exceptional drought. Such a serious drought affects nearly all Alabamians in some way. Shifting soil can cause busted water mains and dried up reservoirs can force water restrictions for consumers. The threat of wildfires has become dangerous, as more than 12,000 acres statewide have burned in the last 30 days with no substantial rainfall predicted.
 
However, no one is more drastically affected by a lack of rain than our state’s farmers and ranchers, whose livelihoods depend on our weather conditions. I recently met with several producers from a wide range of agriculture products in Houston County for a roundtable discussion about some of the challenges they are facing. The dry soil has certainly impacted crop production, but it has also caused a serious shortage of hay that ranchers use to feed their cattle.
 
Farmers take great financial risk every time they put a crop in the field. Their ability to be successful is critical, not just for their own livelihoods, but for the benefit of our state and country. Agriculture, forestry, and related industries contribute more than $70 billion and 580,295 jobs to our state’s economy. From a national perspective, we must always avoid a geopolitical position in which the United States must depend on foreign imports for our food supply.
 
As we monitor drought conditions, my office will remain in contact with partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to make sure producers get the relief they need.  
 
We need policies that help agriculture producers be successful, rather than heavy-handed regulations that make their jobs more difficult. That’s why I was proud to help deliver the most recent Farm Bill that repealed outdated programs and cut unnecessary regulations – all while saving taxpayers more than $23 billon.
 
I was pleased to hear feedback from farmers in the Wiregrass as to the effects of the Farm Bill, both intended and unintended. For example, the most recent Farm Bill replaced direct payments from the government with a greater reliance on crop insurance programs – a needed change – but there are timing complications that need to be addressed moving forward.

Soon, Congress will begin preliminary work on the next Farm Bill. Not everyone I work with in Congress represents a district with such a large agricultural footprint. Being able to listen to farmers’ experiences first hand helps me be a stronger voice on their behalf in Washington.