Should Uncle Sam Bail Us Out of Drought?

It was a very difficult summer. We suffered through more 90-degree days than any year in history. It was just plain hot and dry, the worst season that anyone around here could remember. Oh, that was way back in 2017. 2018, of course, was even worse. Month upon month with no rain. Baking hot days for weeks at a time. In fact, the summer of ’18 was so bad that the USDA declared Linn County a Natural Disaster Area, adding my neighborhood to a long list of weather-scorched places across America. This designation was enough to send a ripple of joy through the countryside, as ranchers were now free to sign up for emergency drought payments, payments based upon how many cattle or how many acres you manage. The bigger your operation, the greater your disaster, so the bigger your relief check. Ranchers made the sign of the cross and sent up a chorus of thanks, because no matter how difficult the markets or the weather, at least they had some good news: the USDA was going to send them some cash to help tide them over. Finally, someone back in Washington had a good idea. Perhaps I should go ahead and say it right now: I don’t think this is a good idea. In fact, I think it’s a bad idea, and very poor policy. Several years back I read a book about disasters that made a huge impression on me. In “Deep Survival,” author Laurence Gonzales tries to answer a simple question: when disaster strikes, (e.g. plane crashes, avalanches, ship wrecks,) why do some people

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4 thoughts on “Should Uncle Sam Bail Us Out of Drought?

  1. Good article, John. We , in agriculture have got to get away from the subsidy mentality. We are, in effect, sending the message that private property ownership does not work, and that we need the government to feed our cows, clear our land , lay water lines, build fences, guarantee insurance, etc. But at the same time, we want to keep our private property rights. You can’t have both. With ownership comes responsibility.

  2. John,

    You hit the nail on the head with your article, good job. There are fewer folks today that will accept responsibility for the situation that they are in. There have always been droughts in the past and they seem to be more common now.

    I agree that the government payment program rewards folks that do not think or manage their operation when faced with a difficult situation. The only thing subsidies do is train you not to think, the government will always bail you out. No need for planning or change.

    New Zealand many years ago discontinued all farm subsidies overnight. The farmers that were dependent on government payments to make a living ceased to exist. The farmers that adapted and planned for profitability excelled.

    With our current twenty trillion dollar national debt, we really don’t have the money to be tossing away on farm subsidies that make the problems even worse.

  3. I appreciate you taking a stand and your willingness to write about it, as well as OnPasture for publishing it.
    When we encourage stupidity by subsidizing it, we just get more of it, which ultimately weakens the character, creativity and resolve of our communities.
    There are times for disaster payments to communities affected by the out of the ordinary cataclysm, but drought, especially in the arid West is almost the norm.

  4. I agree with you 100% on the drought payments, they are rewarding bad behavior just like most welfare payments. In Texas it is more common than not to have months of 100+ degree days with very little rain in site. I’ve survived them without having to decrease my herd by burning thorns on cactus and buying cheaper feed from the feedlot and decreasing the amount fed to them. When you sell your cows you are going to have to really dig into your pockets to replace them when the rains return. Most will tell you that you can’t feed your way out of a drought, but depending on the length of it you may be able to minimize the impact. As part of your research you can find cheaper sources of feed besides those I’ve mentioned. We have brewers grains and they are always a weed or two. Good article!

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