Governor Jay Nixon says the emergency cost-share program he implemented has slowed the sell-off of cattle from the state. Some critics, though, are questioning its effectiveness and where the money is coming from, and accusing him of using it to get exposure for his campaign for re-election.
During a meeting of some of the Governor’s cabinet members at the State Fair for a drought update, Agriculture Director Jon Hagler tells Nixon what data supports the claim the program is working, with a study of 550 pound steers in the state and their value between June 8 and August 15.
“We announced the executive order on (July 23). You can see that on the twenty-seventh we begin what is a change in the price … a steady decline in the market … this is only Missouri … a steady decline turns around and starts increasing in our 550 pounds steers and if you look, volume starts to trail off. I think we’re having … it’s not the sole factor … but I think the livestock program in particular is having a significant calming impact.”
Missouri Cattlemen’s Association President Lonnie Duckworth says the program is helping, but he describes it as a “band-aid.”
“When you look at 108,000 farms in this state and the money he has available to him is going to help about 450 farm operations. That’s not just beef cattle. That’s spread over beef, poultry, dairy and I’ve also heard some irrigation wells for some crop farmers.”
The latest update from the Governor’s office says about 4,600 applications have been approved at a cost of about 4,800 dollars each. That adds up to over 22 million dollars. The program began with 2 million dollars from the Soil and Water Commission. 4.8 million was kicked in later, and Nixon says now the Commission is looking for more.
“We’re working with them to find other cost share resources in that area. I had a good session with the chairman and those folks this week … we’re also looking on our side, on the emergency management side, through the state emergency management expense line to find resources. Also, our community development block grants are used to increase economic development in those areas. We’ll find those resources there.”
Nixon says the program has an economic development component by adding lasting value to the properties improved under it. He also says the program is helping to maintain the state’s rank as the number two cow-calf state in the nation.
“We want to stay there. If folks are selling their herds, we’re not going to be. I understand you’ve got to sell off some and cull here and there, but if we have a year in which we dramatically drop, then the investment it would take by Missouri families to get back up there would be too daunting. So our goal is to keep the same herd out there.”
Asked whether the state can maintain that number two ranking, Duckworth says, “It’s questionable.
“I can’t remember if it was Nebraska or Oklahoma was number two last year … I believe it was Oklahoma. Of course they were very dry last year. They had to sell off a number of cows. That catapulted us back into the second spot. It may turn around this year, but Oklahoma’s not a whole lot better off than we are … Oklahoma and northern Texas. Now central Texas and on south seem to be in a much better condition, and some of our breeding cows that are being sold here are going to Texas.”
Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder accuses Nixon of using the cost-share program to travel the state for exposure during campaign season. He says he’s heard the program was “not going over well” in Neosho, but can offer no details.
“I gotta tell you I heard this third hand. I was not in Neosho, I was in Joplin and Springfield and I heard that when you drill down into this program, there wasn’t much there. It was hard to access this program. It was more of another photo-op for the photo-op governor than it was a real program that really assists people.”
Duckworth says he applauds the Governor for trying to do something.
“He knows that agriculture is a very important and integral part of our state economy … and he has budget constraints obviously. You can’t help everybody, but hopefully at least it will help some people and it’s a gallant effort on his part to try to do that and recognize agriculture’s importance in this state.”