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The Ag Agenda

July 2011

Weather is a House of Cards for Agriculture


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

Mother Nature has played her hand against farmers and ranchers in recent months. Both flooding and drought – sometimes right on the opposite sides of the river – have devastated crops and hurt livestock producers. But, as all farmers and ranchers know, we must play the cards we are dealt.

Luck of the Draw

Farmers gamble against the weather every day. Some days you win big, others you just have to fold. Unfortunately, both tornadoes and extensive flooding in the South and Midwest has given many farmers pause. Sadly, in many cases, they’ve seen their livelihoods literally blown or washed away. In Alabama alone, an estimated 25 percent of the poultry houses were destroyed by tornadoes. But, as tough as farmers and ranchers’ losses have been, it’s important that we stay focused on moving forward to quickly rebuild their operations and make sure they stay viable.

As for the flooding, there are two national concerns we have to begin thinking about: rebuilding the levees and ensuring the rivers stay open for navigation.

The past has shown us that if levees aren’t rebuilt immediately, once thriving farmland will likely turn into economic wastelands. Gone is production agriculture, as well as the tax base for those rural communities.

While we work through this temporary crisis, it’s also important that we keep the rivers dredged and navigable for traffic to move up and down the channels. Farmers far and wide are affected by current navigation restrictions and the resulting back-up of farm products.

The Wild Card

On the other end of the spectrum, drought is taking its toll on many states. In Texas alone, my home state, ranchers are facing astronomical losses of more than $1.2 billion due to crop losses, increased feeding costs and lack of forage. Oklahoma, Kansas and others are also feeling the frustration of drought.

American Farm Bureau economists expect the size of the national cow herd to shrink as ranchers are forced to sell animals they can no longer feed. Wheat and corn farmers are in trouble, too. The hard red winter wheat crop has particularly been hit hard and our economists are expecting a loss in the nation’s corn crop because of the drought.

It’s important that we keep our chins up and start a new day. We farmers and ranchers can’t change the weather but we can determine our future. Many just need the opportunity to play with a fresh deck.