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Congressman Braley Tours Drought Stressed Crops

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PALO, Iowa - After weeks of nearly no rain and several days of 100-degree high temperatures, Gary Owens says it not a good time to be around other farmers.

"The conditions get worse the more farmers you get together," Owens said Friday after he and his wife, Vicki, led a tour of corn and soybean fields on their Benton County Century Farm west of Palo.

The Owenses told to Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, and news reporters who toured their fields that the corn looked much better Friday when the temperature was in the mid-80s following overnight lows in the 60-degree range than it did a day earlier when temperatures were in the 90s.

"It's hard to get a sense of how threatening this weather is on a nice day," Braley agreed. "The corn looks good."

It did, Owens said, but leading his guests between the rows of 6-foot-tall corn he pointed out the leaves are rolling corn's self-preservation technique to conserve moisture and the ears are small. Many stalks have no ears at all.

Some cornstalks are "firing" drying out and turning brown from the roots up. That shouldn't happen until September.

The stress is the result of the combination of high heat and dry conditions, the Owenses explained. Under typical conditions, corn can use two-tenths of an inch of rain a day, Vicki Owens said. Their farm has received about 1.1 inch of rainfall over the past six weeks.

Things could be worse, the Owenses said. They have crop insurance, which Vicki explained likely would cover their costs and pay their suppliers.

"That doesn't mean we'll have a profit," she said.

Although there's little he can do about the drought, Braley is calling on the U.S. House leadership to move forward on a new farm bill. Much of the disaster funding in the 2008 farm bill has expired, he said, leaving many farmers without a safety net this year.

Braley, who's seeking re-election, and his Republican challenger, Ben Lange, agree that federal support for the crop insurance program is appropriate.

"We have a decent start with what we have right now with crop insurance," Lange said after speaking to the Cedar Rapids Daybreak Rotary Club Friday morning.

He agrees with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack that people shouldn't get the impression there is an ever-increasing amount of funds to take care of whatever disaster that pops up next.

"But I think a reasonable role for the federal government is the crop insurance program," Lange said.

"We need to make sure there is the ability for farmers and I think we are seeing it with crop insurance to get through to where they are breaking even, not losing and we want them to succeed and plant another year," Lange said.

Braley made a similar point in a letter he and the other members of the Iowa House delegation Democrats Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell and Republican Tom Latham and Steve King sent to Speaker John Boehner urging him to bring the bill up for a vote soon.

"Iowa farmers are struggling through the worst drought in decades, and failing to pass a farm bill would only compound the problem they face," Braley said. "Just like millions of small businesses around America, farmers need certainty and confidence in the farm safety net they depend on. Now more than ever, getting the farm bill done is too important for political games."

The Owenses have no quarrel with that, but say crop insurance is just a safety net that doesn't solve all of their problems. They've sold much of their 2012 corn crop for October delivery, Vicki explained.

"If we have no crop, we have to buy corn from someone else to fill those contracts," she said. The contracts were for $5 to $6 a bushel corn. Corn on the cash market is $8 now and likely to go higher if drought continues.

"Normally, we sell more corn for October delivery," she said, "but we stopped selling when it started drying out."

The Owenses have some corn from their 2011 crop they may have to use to fulfill their October contracts, Vicki said.

They've already lost the "top end" of their typical 180-bushel per acre corn yield, Gary Owens said, but the couple has not given up hope. Depending on rain and temperature, he estimated they could harvest as much as 130 bushels per acre.

But with the weather forecast indicating very little rainfall potential over the next seven to 10 days and a return to excessive, possibly record-breaking heat next week, the harvest could be much less.

"It's nothing we have any control over," Gary Owens said, "so it doesn't do any good to worry.

"How it's going to finish is up to Mother Nature," he added.

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