As I rode past soybean fields on a Fourth of July bicycle ride, I thought it odd the plants weren’t any taller than a hard-fought four inches. 


As I rode past soybean fields on a Fourth of July bicycle ride, I thought it odd the plants weren’t any taller than a hard-fought four inches. The soybeans east of Columbia look like they’re holding their own, but the corn is beginning to turn yellow on the lower leaves. Out my back door, the tomatoes I planted in May just look sickly; they’re leggy and the tomatoes aren’t getting very big. I was beginning to think it was something I was doing, but it is just too hot and dry. Three months ago, we were eager for warm breezes. Spring came early. We were amazed at the early warm temperatures, and farmers took advantage of weather and got crops in the ground ahead of schedule. Getting at least two cuttings of hay looked like a possibility, and by all accounts, we were looking forward to a good growing season in Missouri. As did spring, summer came early. The rain stopped and extreme heat arrived. Most of Missouri hasn’t seen a good soaker in weeks, and as a result, the vast majority of the state is categorized in some level of drought, with southeast Missouri in extreme drought. Virtually every state across the country is suffering from drought, and it’s getting worse. It’s turning out to be “one of those years.” This is exactly the sort of year in which a functioning farm bill protects farmers and ranchers. The U.S. House of Representatives has an opportunity to debate the farm bill that the Senate approved last month. The urgency with which they address the bill will affect many farmers in Missouri. Most of the programs authorized under the existing Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 expire at the end of September, and disaster assistance programs lapsed last fall. Gov. Jay Nixon recently asked the Missouri Farm Service Agency to assess damage to crops and forage in every county in Missouri. This information will be critical if federal disaster declarations are to be requested and approved.  Even if disaster declarations are made, resources are limited. This is when a farm bill proves vital. Farmers can do everything right, and still they are at the mercy of Mother Nature. That’s why Congress saw fit years ago to put in place a food security policy—one that helps farmers deal with years like this and also keeps food prices affordable for all of us. It is called the farm bill, but it is really a food bill, and it has been that way for some time. Most of the funding is allocated to food stamps, with only 20 percent of the package going to farm programs, conservation, energy and research, among others. Programs, like crop insurance for example, are crucial this year, but they won’t make a farmer whole. The aim is to soften the impact of a catastrophic event such as drought. As a consumer, I’m glad the safety net is there. Since I cannot seem to get a good tomato out of my garden this year, I know farmers somewhere will, which means I won’t have to worry when I go to the store. Farm programs, while designed for farmers, are truly intended for us as consumers. Please urge your Congressman to pass a farm bill as soon as possible.


Rebecca French Smith, of Columbia, Mo., is a multi-media specialist for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization.