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September 2006

Mother Nature Has Sweltering Impact on Agriculture

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Much of the country suffered last month as record temperatures soared throughout the Midwest, East Coast, southern and even western states. Places like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where summer temperatures average in the 70s, were registering well past the 100-degree mark. There’s no question about it, no one was immune from the heat.

But it is the farmers and ranchers across the nation who are feeling some of the harshest impacts of the heat, along with drought damage. Produce is literally withering on the vine, and I suspect there will be some producers who may not even bother to harvest. Many farmers and ranchers will tell you recent weather conditions have been the worst in their memories. And U.S. agriculture stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars because of it.

Bull’s Eye: Agriculture

Even though now the high temperatures have somewhat dissipated, unfortunately agriculture is still feeling the long-term impacts of excessive heat and drought. One look at the U.S. Drought Monitor (http://www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html), and anyone can see just how bad it is for agriculture.

For example, South Dakota has been a bull’s eye for severe drought conditions this past year. In some areas of the state, there has been less than three inches of total moisture since January, resulting in major fires blazing throughout ranchlands. According to South Dakota Farm Bureau, with as much as 20,000 acres consumed per fire, the state’s ranchers are spending more time organizing neighborhood watches and fighting fires than they are ranching.

As far as sustaining herds in the state, ranchers are trying to figure out their plans as they head into autumn. It is likely there will not be significant moisture until springtime, and little opportunity for ranchers to get their herds out to pasture until late April-mid May.

Struggling to Get By

My home state of Texas is another area suffering from extreme drought conditions. The Texas Department of Agriculture has reported that this is the second-driest year since 1918. Producers are facing major expenses due to water and fuel costs to irrigate. In many cases, it is still a lost cause.

Some of South Texas’ farms, in particular, have been hit with up to 60 percent failed acres. Most row crop farmers in that area have had less than half of a normal yield. Many acres have been zeroed out, where crops didn’t come up at all and the remaining crops are very poor.

My old friend Bobby Nedbalek, a cotton and grain sorghum producer in San Patricio County, says that if he has a good crop for the next several years, he should be able to fully recover. A lot of his acres didn’t come up this season because of lack of moisture.

While the row crop sector should be able to bounce back, it is the cattle producers that will struggle because they have had to make massive liquidations of their herds. You can bet they won’t be able to buy back breeding stock and feeders at the same price that they sold them.

The communities also bear the burden. Fuel dealers, as well as fertilizer and seed suppliers are feeling the pinch. Many cotton gins and elevators didn’t even open their doors this year. In places like Corpus Christi, two failed crop seasons have cut down on the number of harvesters who would normally come to town, bringing substantial employment and revenue to the area.

Bobby Nedbalek says that he just hopes for a better situation come planting time next year. “Our area has done just well enough to stay in business until then,” he says.