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Clinton County Farmer Dustin Johnson (right) shows U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and fellow farmer Stan Harmsen what effects the drought have had on his crops Thursday on Johnson's farm.

Katie Dahlstrom/Clinton Herald
Herald Staff Writer

Farmers across Iowa and the U.S. are fraught with uncertainty as they prepare to harvest their corn.

For many, including Dustin Johnson, of rural Clinton, the effects of the drought and intense heat remain to be seen. 

The varying degree of quality Johnson finds as he walks his fields is just one of two issues weighing heavily on his mind.  

Not only are farmers reeling from mother nature’s actions, but those of the U.S. House, which has yet to pass a farm bill.  The current farm bill expires on Sept. 30.  With less than a dozen days in session before that day and an approaching election, it is unclear what — if any — action the house will take to pass a new five-year farm bill.  

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, on Thursday, visited Johnson’s 450-acre farm to discuss the drought effects and the farm bill, which he has been vocal about passing.

Johnson, who also serves as the vice president of the Clinton County Farm Bureau, said he will begin harvesting about three weeks earlier than normal.  He has been farming for five years on his fifth-generation farm, where he grows corn, soybeans and hay and raises cattle and sheep.

“I’ve got about a third of the hay I had last year,” Johnson said to Loebsack.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, reported on Monday that 59 percent of Iowa’s pasture or range land is rated very poor. Only 14 percent is rated in fair or better condition.  None is rated excellent.

Although Johnson has seen substantial losses in hay, his corn crop appears to be doing better than many other farmers throughout the state.

“Our soil has definitely saved us this year,” Johnson said.

Rain during the end of July provided also his farm with some corn-salvaging relief.

“It’s tough for any of us to say what we’re going to have,” he said. “It won’t be disaster, but it won’t be busting the bins.”

The National Agricultural Statistics Service expects U.S. growers will produce 13 percent less corn than last year.  

Cooler temperatures and continued bouts of rain have also helped Johnson’s soybean crop, which has improved statewide for the first time in seven weeks, according to Northey.   

“You’re pretty lucky, but you know other farmers that haven’t been?” Loebsack asked.

“Absolutely,” Johnson replied.  

Loebsack’s visit was not directed at the drought alone.  He, Johnson and Harmsen also discussed the 2012 Farm Bill at length.  Congress passes a Farm Bill, which sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy, every five years.

The Senate passed the 2012 bill in June.  However, the U.S. House, adjourned without taking action on a bill that was passed by the House Agriculture Committee last month, leaving farmers, their families beneath another cloud of uncertainty as the 2008 bill expiration date looms.

“The whole point is, we need the Farm Bill,” Loebsack said. “I’m happy to be back in Iowa, but I don’t think we should have let out without passing the farm bill.”

The U.S. House passed a stand-alone disaster bill that would bring some relief to ranchers and specialty farmers who have experienced hardships during what is the worst drought in more than 25 years.

A full five-year farm bill would provide broader assistance as well as programs for loans, beginning farmers, insurance, energy, and rural business development.

“We’re very willing to do our share,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to feed and fuel the nation.”