Governor tours farms

Chad Anvinson pulled scrawny beans out of parched soil, plucked stunted sugar beets from ground punctuated by long cracks and stood amid wheat that cannot produce the yields he needs.

Chad Anvinson pulled scrawny beans out of parched soil, plucked stunted sugar beets from ground punctuated by long cracks and stood amid wheat that cannot produce the yields he needs.

Anvinson told Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty under a mostly clear sky in dry 84-degree heat Wednesday that he has to dig well below crop root systems to find any moisture. Even if rain fell Wednesday - and no soaker is in the forecast for at least the next week - it would be too late for grain crops, Anvinson said. Sugar beets, however, still could benefit from precipitation.

Pawlenty visited Anvinson's farm in northern Polk County, promising about 75 farmers and agri-business people he would find a way to help.

"We'll do something," the governor said in an interview. "We just have to work out the details."

Gathered in a machine shed on Anvinson's farm, farmers told Pawlenty stories about this year's drought and last year's heavy rains. Pawlenty and other state and federal officials could offer little hope.


The drought "is going to expand," predicted Perry Aasness, Minnesota's deputy agriculture commissioner.

Federal officials already have permitted farmers in seven northwest Minnesota to use Conservation Reserve Program land, which normally is left idle, to feed livestock because of the drought. More counties are expected to be added.

However, it will take more time to declare counties disaster areas, making farmers eligible for low-interest federal loans. A Tuesday meeting may lead to that declaration, and Pawlenty promised to push for federal help.

Pawlenty and many farmers said Congress needs to provide disaster aid, not just loans. He said he will join North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds in lobbying Congress.

Federal officials have declared a "severe drought" in northwestern, central and east central Minnesota. Some fields show signs of a wet spring that killed patches of crops, while a few feet away surviving plants are wilting in the summer's hot, dry weather.

The governor said he will propose that the state offer cash to farmers, perhaps to relieve property tax burdens, ease insurance premium payments or pay for crop losses. Although he said he may be able to take some action on his own, most would require legislative approval and lawmakers are not due back in St. Paul until January.

Anvinson, a Republican like Pawlenty, said he was glad Pawlenty saw the situation: "First-hand is the best way to see it."

Crops look green from the highway, Anvinson said, but he told Pawlenty bean yield will be just 40 percent of normal.


"We have had no significant rainfall since May 10," he said.

Crops like soybeans are finished growing, and any rain will be too late, Anvinson said. "That's all we are going to get."

The 33-year-old said this year's crops will be the worst since he started farming in 1989.

Despite facing his own losses, Anvinson said he is concerned about grain elevators, the car dealer in nearby Oslo and other merchants.

"There are a lot of farms that have trouble cash-flowing," Anvinson said, so farmers cannot buy merchandise.

Forth-five miles to the north, Kelly Erickson of near Hallock is facing dry conditions too, coming on the heels of an extremely wet 2005.

"Last year was absolutely the worst year we have ever seen," Erickson said.

Thousands of acres could not be planted last year because the soil was so wet. This year, drought is taking its toll.


"We're looking at back-to-back disasters," Erickson said.

Joe Wilebski of rural Lancaster, who farms a half mile south of the Canadian border, said it is not just the crops being affected. Since grazing lands are brown due to lack of moisture, he has been forced to feed his cows hay, normally their winter food.

"I don't think we've ever fed hay in July," Wilebski said.

John Monson, state Farm Service Agency director, agrees with Wilebski. "It is livestock farmers who are hurting the most right now."

State and federal officials say they plan to set up a hotline so farmers can find hay for livestock.

Monson told Pawlenty the area most affected by drought, so far, is in the northwest.

"The epicenter is just east of here," Monson said.

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