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MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa (AP) — Corn and livestock producers warned Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on Tuesday that tough times are looming for farmers and the state's powerful agriculture industries as the drought gripping the state and nation gets worse.
During a public forum hosted by Branstad, representatives of Iowa's pork, cattle, corn and soybeans industries expressed alarm about the impact of what state climatologist Harry Hillaker called the worst drought in Iowa since 1988.
They predicted a ripple effect throughout the state as smaller-than-expected harvests cause prices to spike and create a shortage of grain products that feed livestock. Pork and beef producers will be hit particularly hard because they lack an equivalent to the crop insurance that helps protect most corn and soybean farmers, they said.
"The drought and impact on feed prices may be on the verge of creating a financial disaster for the pork industry and other livestock industries," said Bill Tentinger, a hog farmer from Le Mars who is president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. "Much of the media coverage has focused on crop producers who face large yield losses. However, the animal industries may ultimately fare even worse."
The forum at a high school in Mount Pleasant came one day after a government report found that its corn and soybean crops were rapidly deteriorating, with less than 40 percent in good or excellent condition.
Branstad told reporters after the two-hour meeting that it drove home the less visible impact of the drought for livestock producers. He expressed concern for those who work in Iowa's pork industry, which is the biggest in the nation, and its cattle industry, which has been making a comeback in recent years. Looking at the bigger picture, he worried that the thriving agricultural sector that helped Iowa weather the recession and fueled a state budget surplus this year could hit a rough patch.
"Agriculture has been the bright spot in the economy and done quite well. We've had a situation in the last couple years where both grain and livestock producers have made money. Now, this really threatens the livestock side in particular," Branstad said. "If these livestock producers get hurt, this could hurt the entire Iowa economy."
Branstad said he would ensure the state will be ready to seek disaster declarations to free up federal aid if that becomes necessary. He also said he would consider temporary changes to ease weight limits on Iowa roads to help move large grain shipments to pork producers and cattlemen faster.
He said the state had been preparing for a drought since February, when he formed a task force to monitor the situation because there wasn't much snowfall. But he said a "double whammy" of higher than expected temperatures and less than normal rain nonetheless made the situation dire.
Hillaker, the climatologist, warned the crowd of more than 100 that the drought covering much of the state would get worse before it got better. He said Iowa is actually slightly better off than other corn-producing states that are suffering through similar hot, dry weather.
That was no comfort to Wayne Humphreys, a Columbus Junction farmer who brought some corn to the meeting to show its deterioration. He said farmers who have a tough year will develop stress and health problems, as he did during a similar drought in the early 1980s.
"It will get very quiet in Iowa. People who have a crop will not gloat, will not revel in their luck," he said. "And people who have a problem, they will internalize it and they will get despondent and withdraw."