Low yield or no yield
By Bob Krumm
It will be several months before the results of this year’s drought can be assessed monetarily, but Congressman Bob Latta got a sense of an impending disaster last month.
Latta is no stranger to farming. His family has been farming in Northwest Ohio for well over a century. But farms in Ohio and the Midwest are a long way from the Washington, D.C. beltway. That’s why the Congressman, accompanied by Director of Ohio Department of Agriculture David Daniels had their feet in the fields of several Northwest Ohio farms.
Congressman Latta observed this was “the worst drought in 56 years,” adding, “Williams County crops look absolutely awful.”
Daniels reported that “90 percent of Ohio’s farmland have less than adequate moisture to raise a fully mature crop.”
A Daniels staffer showed a photo taken on a Paulding County farm, showing a crack in the dry ground measuring three feet in depth.
Some of the most staggering numbers they heard concern corn. On some farms it might not be low yield, but no yield.
In a normal growing season Fulton County farms average about 160 bushels an acre. This year yields will probably average 40 bushels — a loss of 120 bushels.
If corn average is $8 a bushel, an acre will only produce $320 in revenue. (Keep in mind, this is not profit, because expenses need to be subtracted first.)
In a normal year a farmer’s harvest might bring in $1,280 per acre. One Delta area farmer said he has 1,260 acres of corn and in a good year that would result in sales of about $1.6 million. This year he expects the crop to only bring in about $403,000, a loss of nearly $1.2 million.
The cost to produce an acre of corn runs between $700-$800. This includes seed, fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide, equipment and cost to fuel and operate equipment.
It costs about $1,120 to fuel a combine, which uses about a gallon of diesel per acre and a tank of it in as little as two or three days.
Corn ear size is about half the diameter and half the length of a normal. The first couple rows on the edge of a field look misleadingly healthy because there’s less competition for moisture, and there is more air movement. Take just a couple steps into a field, like Latta and Daniels did, and the real impact can be seen. Several random ears held as few as seven or eight kernels.
Latta is taking samples back to Washington, D.C. to show agricultural committee members.
What about soybeans?
Soybeans are better off, but nothing to shout about. While late July and early August rains are helping fill pods, harvests are still expected to be down by as much as 25 to 30 percent, or more, in many areas.
If it wasn’t for crop insurance, some area farmers say they couldn’t survive to make it into next year. However, there’s no insurance for livestock producers.
Livestock producers really pinched
Livestock producers began dipping into their supply of winter hay early, meaning they’ll be running out long sooner than normal. As a result, the farmers in Northwest Ohio, and most of the state, are desperate to find other sources for hay and feed, which will have to be shipped into Ohio.
Discussions at the state level are underway to increase weight limits on trucks bringing in feed. The state is also considering allowing some limited grazing on public land.
Ohio Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the OSU Extension Office, Farm Bureau and others, will be holding regional meetings to assist farmers in finding supplies of feed.
Drought means higher prices at the market
Latta and Daniels foresee rising prices ahead with low supplies of feed and reduction in herd sizes increasing the price of meat, eggs, and dairy products.
Some livestock producers have already begun selling off their herds. This will flood the market with cheaper meat in the short term, although Daniels says putting too much into the market at once may be too much for retailers to absorb.
He also observed that it requires time to rebuild a herd. One county livestock producer said he recently bought Holstein calves, which take 16 months to mature. The combination of low meat supplies and higher feed costs translates into higher prices for consumers.
Many Northwest Ohio livestock farmers are currently feeding fat cattle with shelled corn. Finding sufficient supplies is a challenge. Some are considering cutting corn fields for silage. The problem with silage is that compared to other nutrition sources, such as shelled corn, the calorie levels are about two to two-and-a-half times lower. Cattle don’t fatten up, meaning lower prices at the auction house.
Farm bill extension, disaster relief
There is a double whammy this year. Besides the drought, the five-year farm bill is set to expire and there is lots of debate to cut $31 to $35 billion from the bill.
Latta’s district is the largest in the state with the most farmland. District 5 covers 12 counties in Northwest Ohio and portions of four other counties. Agriculture is a vital part of the areas’ economic base. Thus, the new farm bill could have a huge impact on his district.
At the very least, he is hoping legislators approve a one-year extension to allow farmers to get through the drought.
Governor John Kasich has declared disaster areas in many of Ohio’s counties, which allows farmers to qualify for disaster relief funds that will help them until sufficient moisture returns to the fields.
Bob Krumm is past publisher of The Fulton County Expositor.