Drought continues to cause losses
By Jennifer Carrico
Farmers are always at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to raising a crop, but this year it seems to be more widespread than in recent history.
With no measurable amounts of rain forecasted and a poor corn and soybean crop across the high-producing states, farmers are having a hard time staying positive about their crop.
Southeast Iowa farmer Wayne Humphrey, Columbus Junction, Iowa, said this is the worst he's ever seen.
"When people are driving around, the severity of the drought can be a bit deceiving since the crops are green," he said. "The genetic companies have done a great job of keeping crops green even under severe conditions. But just because they are green doesn't mean there is any grain present."
What do the farmers need to salvage this crop? Rain. However, there isn't enough precipitation in the forecast to make much of a difference for the corn crop. Humphrey said with cooler temperatures and one inch of rain for the rest of the growing season, the soybean crop could be salvaged.
The most recent crop report on July 29 showed a further deteriorating corn and soybean crop in the 18 highest producing states across the United States.
The corn crop in those states was 48 percent rated poor to very poor, which was 3 percent worse than the previous week. Only 3 percent was rated excellent, as compared to 16 percent a year ago and 21 percent was rated as good, as compared to 46 percent in 2011.
The soybean crop in those 18 states was 37 percent rated poor to very poor. Only 3 percent was rated excellent, as compared to 14 percent a year ago and 26 percent was rated good, as compared to 46 percent in 2011.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said the crop conditions in Iowa continue to deteriorate as the hot, dry weather persists.
"The weather is also a real challenge for livestock producers as pastures dry up and they work around the clock to keep their animals cool," he said.
The latest crop report showed 82 percent of Iowa's pasture and range land is considered to be in poor to very poor condition. Some farmers have already started to chop corn for silage in hopes of salvaging it for livestock feed.
He said the fifth driest and third hottest July on record in Iowa likely will take a significant toll on corn yields but there is still hope for a productive soybean crops if timely rains occur during the remainder of the growing season.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the challenge for the country's farmers this year is the widespread suffering due to drought. Vilsack visited Iowa on July 24 and heard from Iowa farmers about what the conditions are like on their farms.
"We don't know yet what the crop yields will be, but we know they won't be what we need and we know livestock producers are suffering due to higher feed prices and lack of hay and pasture," he said.
Crop insurance should help relieve the grain farmers a bit, but Vilsack said with no direct disaster programs for livestock producers, he has tried to help them how he can by opening Conservation Reserve Program acres for emergency haying and grazing where needed with a reduction in the penalty down to 10 percent to be paid back instead of the normal 25 percent.
The USDA has also authorized the sale of the hay from CRP ground in order to further help out livestock producers. Reduced loan interest rates are available for disaster loans as well. Greater flexibility will be given to producers who are involved in other government programs also.
Vilsack reminded those in attendance to contact their lawmakers to help get a new farm bill passed to help the producers who are struggling because of the drought.
"We need a valid, strong safety net for farmers. We need to educate the public about how important farmers are and that they are the ones in need of help right now so they can continue to feed us," he said.
Vilsack told the group that we live in the most food secure country in the world. "The cost of food in the U.S. is only 10 percent of our paycheck and it is brought to you by these farmers who are suffering today," he added.
Bruce Rohwer, a grain and hog farmer from northwest Iowa and vice president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said many farmers in his part of the state are suffering, just the same as other farmers.
"The rains in our part of the state have been like patchwork. One farm will get some and the one right next to it won't," he said. "I will give credit to the plant breeders, because 50 years ago a drought like this would have left us with absolutely no crop. This year, we might be able to salvage a little of something."
Humphrey isn't sure of a salvage at this point in the southeast corner of the state. "We have corn cobs that are barren. Some fields will have very few kernels on the ear. Then we have to decide how what to do with the plants and if it's worth running a combine over a field," he said.
Humphrey said without any measurable moisture, the corn crop could total up to be losing 90 million bushels per day across the country.
"The five-year average for our corn yield is 162 bushels per acre. We will be real lucky to get 100 bushels per acre this year," he added.
While Vilsack said the crop insurance should help these farmers, Humphrey is concerned as to whether there will be enough funds to help all the farmers who have claims this year or if they will be out of luck.
"Let's continue to hope for rain. Then maybe we can at least have a decent soybean crop," he concluded.
Northey said, "We do know that this will have an impact well beyond corn and soybean producers, well beyond the livestock producers out there, and the ethanol plants out there, and into Iowa's general economy. We just don't know how much yet."
Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.