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USDA hears farmers’ lasting drought fears
Michigan Correspondent

ARCHBOLD, Ohio — The impact of the 2012 drought on Ohio, Michigan and Indiana agriculture and rural communities was the centerpiece of discussion when nearly 100 ag producers, rural stakeholders and federal and state officials gathered on Nov. 27 at Northwest State Community College.

“The impact of drought can be felt in rural communities throughout the country, and the Obama administration is committed to doing everything it can to help farmers, ranchers, businesses and local and county governments meet drought-related challenges,” said Colleen Callahan, USDA disaster recovery coordinator for drought.
“These meetings provide an opportunity for federal representatives to work with local and regional leaders to learn about drought-related impacts in the region and determine how to best use existing programs to help speed recovery efforts.”

Before the roundtable discussion, Kentucky State Climatologist Stuart Foster, Ph.D. gave a drought outlook and forecast. He offered an overview of the severity of the drought throughout the country, saying, “While this drought is bad, historically it’s been much worse.

“There are some areas we are very concerned about because of the depletion of the soil moisture.”

Focused on the long-term impact of the drought, the panel discussions began with sectors of the agricultural industry voicing their concerns and what they need the USDA to address. Local perspectives were given on how the drought is impacting livestock producers, grain farmers, small businesses and rural communities.
Brent Peterson of Jewell Grain Co. of northwestern Ohio said it took in 40 percent less grain this fall than usual. “We’ve had reduced revenue because we had to keep some of our corn reserves so we would have enough feed for customers for next spring,” he explained.

He said the positive aspect of this is most grain farmers have crop insurance so they will be able to pay their bills, and that gives everyone peace of mind.

Grain farmer Roy Klopfenstein of Paulding County said, “We thought this would be the first year we wouldn’t harvest a corn crop, but as we went through the summer things got a little better. About 50 to 60 percent of our corn crop was damaged.”

He pointed out he had to use twice as many acres to get the same yields for corn silage this year as compared to a normal year. He was glad for crop insurance and asked the government officials not to “mess” with it. “If anything, make it better, it’s a viable tool for us.

“We need to be appreciative for those in the livestock industry. They have risks that we don’t have in crop production, with crop insurance. Their feed costs will go through the roof. They will face more challenges than we will in the crop business,” he said.
Director of Market Development of the Ohio Corn Marketing Board Brad Moffitt said farmers need to keep their risk management tools, that transportation for grains is key and that farmers need a farm bill.

Livestock sector

Livestock producers were the next group to voice their concerns of the impact of the drought. Turkey grower Ron Bradford of Ohio said his feed costs have increased drastically and although he can feed alternative feeds such as distillers dried grains, these are not a long-term solution.

Bradford said producers can survive in the short term, but they are worried about long-term feed costs. He also mentioned it would be beneficial to slow down the ethanol production for a period of time.
Dr. Leon Weaver, owner of Bridgewater Dairy in northwestern Ohio, said his corn harvest was 40 percent less than normal and he was forced to buy corn from other farmers who had irrigated fields. “I hate to tell you what I paid for that corn,” he added.

He said the dairy industry is in a state of consolidation and the national herd is shrinking. He noted while things are bad in the Midwest, the real stress of the industry is in California where they are dependent on feed from the Midwest.

He said dairy farmer’s No. 1 challenge is to manage volatility, and if one good thing could come out of these meetings it would be to “modernize the yield determination of corn silage.

“There are two things that keep me up at night: are we going to have two more years of drought, and are feed prices going to stay so high that even we can’t survive in the Midwest?” Weaver asked.
He also discussed the next generation of farmers and asked, “How are the beginning farmers going to be able to manage risk?”
He said, as educators, farmers have to bring people in to teach them and provide an opportunity to build a career. “If we are going to keep this production system going in a worldwide global market, then we have to create a lifestyle that young people will want to live. They need to see there are many opportunities in agriculture.”
Weaver concluded agriculture needs to teach young people their “equity is between their ears” and from niche to large commercial farming, there is a place for them.

John Grimes, Ohio State University extension beef coordinator, said the national beef cowherd is “under 30 million head for the first time in a long time, and that we can’t rebuild it overnight.” He said feedlots are asking for a more forage-based grain now and the forage supply is very tight, especially with so much of the land base being put back into production for corn and soybeans.

“The biggest threats to our industry are the animal rights movement and the huge disconnect with the non-farm population. And it would be nice to get some relief from the renewable fuel standards,” he concluded.