Farmers not expecting the best
BY SUSAN HARTLEY
Area farmers in the midst of harvesting their drought-stricken fields know not to expect their normal yields from the 2012 planting season.
A report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in early September said corn production in Ohio will drop 13 percent to a six-year low — the lowest since 2006. Ohio soybean production is expected to be the lowest since 2003.
According to Ohio State University Extension economist Matt Roberts, the 2012 drought has been tough on farmers across the Midwest.
“I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone, especially growers. For most farmers, this is the year that they will lose much of the profits they’ve made over five good years,” Roberts said in a press release from OSU extension.
Harold Watters, assistant professor and Ohio State University Extension field agronomist, said as of mid-September, the Logan County crops look “about like the rest of central Ohio. Too dry for too long for the corn — it will be from 65 to 80 percent of normal yield,” he said. “Soybeans look better from late-season rains, but will likely still be off the average by 10 percent with some yields maybe off 25–30 percent.”
It’s not all bad news for all growers. The Fiebigers of Miami County said their corn yield at their Brown Township location will be yielding 180–200 bushels per acre. But not all area farmers will be as fortunate. It just really depended on how much rain each field received throughout the hot summer.
According to a news release from the Ohio State University Extension office, the USDA in August cut its projected U.S. corn production to 10.8 billion bushels, down 17 percent from its earlier forecast of nearly 13 billion bushels and 13 percent lower than last year. Soybean production is forecast to be down as well, to 2.69 billion bushels, which is 12 percent lower than last year, as well as lower than the 3.05 billion bushels the USDA forecast last month.
The projections mean this year’s corn production will be the lowest since 2006, with soybean production at its lowest rate since 2003. The USDA said it expects corn growers to average 123.4 bushels per acre, down 24 bushels from last year, while soybean growers are expected to average 36.1 bushels per acre, down 5.4 bushels from last year.
In Ohio, those numbers translate into a projected yield of 126 bushels per acre, which is down 32 bushels per acre from last year for corn. Soybeans are projected at 42 bushels per acre, down from last year’s 47.5 bushels per acre yield. While yield per acreage is down, higher grain prices are good news for area farmers.
“Prices will go a long way to make up the bushel shortfall and likely give good income for most growers who did not have a big loss on corn yield — some fields only 25–30 percent of normal,” Watters said. “Crop insurance for most will make up enough on the losses to keep us in business for another year.”
Sizing up the hay crop, Watters said, “I hear and see little of hay, but the impact to livestock farmers will be the greatest — with grain prices too high to make money off livestock and hay in short supply.”
How are area counties faring with their 2012 growing season? We asked local experts in each of the following counties.
• Auglaize County
John Smith has been the Ohio State University Extension educator, agriculture and natural resources, in Auglaize County for more than 26 years and he can only think of one other drought — 1988 — that would compare to this summer’s drought.
The year “1988 was bad, but not quite as bad as this year,” Smith said, noting the drought that year was not as severe during the critical pollination period. Besides the lack of rain this summer, the 100-degree plus temperatures “doubled the effect,” Smith said. He estimated the temperature in the middle of corn fields on the 100-degree days to 115 to 120. “You just don’t get pollination at those temperatures,” he said.
“There are a lot of stalks in the middle of some fields that are barren,” Smith said.
While the harvest hadn’t started when Smith was interviewed in early September, he said was hopeful that the average corn yield for Auglaize County will be in the 120 bushel an acre range, well below the normal 156 bushel average. However, Smith said some the yield for some farms will be well below the 120-bushel range.
As far as the soybean yields, Smith said it’s more difficult to judge what effect the recent rains will have. His estimate for the soybean crop is 35 to 38 bushels an acre, well below the 45–46 average yield for Auglaize County.
It’s not only the grain crops that have suffered from the drought, Smith said the hay yields also have lagged well behind average figures.
“The first cutting was very good and the second was a little less because of the drought, but the third cutting was almost non-existent,” Smith said. “Hay is very expensive,” Smith said, noting the price is in the $300 to $450 per ton range, about triple the normal $100 to $120 per ton paid by dairy farmers.
Smith said higher market prices — with corn near $8 per bushel and soybeans at near $17 in early September — will help farmers make up for the lower yields, but won’t be enough to cover all the losses.
“If you don’t have anything to sell, you don’t make any money,” he said.
New Bremen area grain farmer John Heitkamp estimated his corn yield will be well under the 160 bushels per acre he harvests during an average year. Heitkamp farms about 1,500 acres.
“Beans might be close to average,” Heitkamp said, noting some rains that came in mid-August were too late to boost corn yields, but were in time to help soybean development.
The timing of the rains — including a 3-inch rain in early September — made a major difference. “If we could have had that rain at the end of June, it would have been tremendous,” Heitkamp said.
While his yields will be down, Heitkamp said farms in the Coldwater and Union City areas have been hit even worse by the drought.
Heitkamp also said the higher grain prices will help farmers weather the drought. He also noted that crop insurance will help farmers through the crisis, estimating that 75 to 80 percent of Ohio farmers are insured. Heitkamp is a crop insurance agent.
• Logan County
While some parts of Logan County have been hit hard by this summer’s drought, Darin Leach, executive director of the Logan County Farm Service Agency, said overall farmers in his county have fared better than their counterparts in western Ohio.
“The farms in the eastern half of our county are going to have a decent crop,” Leach said, adding that those in the western portions will see much lower yields.
“We’re hoping to see a 120 bushels an acre average,” Leach said, noting that would be about 25 percent under the normal yield of 145 to 150 bushels an acre.
Since the soybean fields are still green in most areas of the county, Leach said in mid-September, it’s a little more difficult to gauge the yield for this year’s harvest. “I’d estimate we’ll be around 40 bushels an acre, the normal yield being about 46 to 48 bushels,” he said.
Leach said the crops in Logan County were planted a little later that in some other area counties, resulting in later maturing crops that benefited from late-summer rains. He also said some areas received a more rain, especially in eastern Logan County, that drought-stricken western Ohio and Indiana.
The drought has reduced the yield for hay crops in Logan County.
Higher grain prices will bring some relief for farmers.
“If you have 100 bushels an acre at $8 a bushel it’s as good as 200 bushels at $4 and there isn’t as much wear on equipment,” Leach said.
“Some of our dairy farmers are scrambling to have enough hay to make it through the winter,” Leach said, noting the hay crop yield is well below average in his county
• Champaign County
For Champaign county crop outlooks Harold Watters, an OSU extension Field Agronomist, states, “We’ve been concerned for most of the year now.”
While rain levels were favorable back in April and May the drought over the summer has taken it’s toll. Yields of corn and soybeans looks to be down by about half.
“We’ve been running on soil moisture most of the year, we can hold a fair amount of water in the soil but it’s not enough,” said Watters who sees crops planted on soil above gravel to yield 80 bushels an acre for corn, 30 on soybeans. The typical is above 160 for corn and 50 for soybeans.
Those well-drained soils will manage a little bit better this year but will still be down with corn at 120 bushels estimate.
Rain from Hurricane Isaac should make an improvement for soybeans, but it’s already too late for corn.
“We’ll see,” said Watters of the rain from Isaac, while explaining how the high temperatures also means an early harvest, in the next two to three weeks for corn when the typical is end of October or later, with soybeans right behind. “I hope for a dry harvest so we can get the crop out without any more issues.”
• Shelby County
The big problem affecting crops this year is a common foe: the weather.
“The weather is the one thing we can’t control,” said Debbie Brown of the Shelby County OSU Extension Office. “Unfortunately this year has not been a good year for crops.”
Brown said corn yields and some other crop post potentials are expected to be below average for the fall harvest.
“Corn yields, we anticipate, will be off — big time,” she said. “What I am hearing as far as post potentials are round 50 to 75 percent (for corn), and I have heard as high as a little over 100.”
Brown said fields in the area have been so variable, and noted how interesting it will be when farmers get into them.
“Sometimes they look good from the outside, but not so well in the center,” Brown said.
She said the soybean crop has much better potential for production this harvesting season.
“We might get some decent yields, somewhere around 40 to 60 percent overall,” she stated. “The rains we had in early August really helped, but there are fields that were not able to take advantage of that either.”
She added that hay and forages have been short and it might be a “tough year for farmers who need to have forages to feed their critters.”
• Miami County
Like Shelby County, Miami County also is expecting similar yields this harvesting season, according to Dennis Stryker, executive director of the Miami County Farm Agency.
Prior to August rainfall, hot and dry conditions earlier this summer became a concern to area farmers regarding potential harvest forecasts.
Stryker said most of Miami County has not had a good average of rain since the planting season, and although plant roots were able to root themselves into the moisture in the soil, the hot temperatures and the drought conditions last month resulted in more moisture out of the plant.
“We’re running out of available moisture even for the depth that the roots are going,” Stryker said.
He added that in July there was concern with the 100-degree heat and how the plants, when they are short on water, couldn’t keep up with the needs, causing wilting.
Also affecting the harvest season in Miami County regarding corn Stryker said the heat and lack of rain caused some corn to tassel at the top, which creates problems with pollination in those conditions and restricts the process of pollination.
While the area has received rain since the drought-like conditions earlier this year, Stryker said in June that Miami County only took in just a little over an inch of rain.
One area Miami County farmer, Jim Fiebiger, who extensively farms in northwestern Miami County and is owner of Fiebiger Seed on Miami-Shelby Road, said the heat in June had a negative impact on the county’s crops, including his own.
“So much heat is just devastating to the plants,” he said. “The heat drastically affects yields, corn more than beans.”
Susan Hartley is excutive editor
of the Piqua Daily Call
Tom Millhouse, Bethany Royer and
Will E Sanders also contributed to this report.