By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — In what has become a much-anticipated annual event, agriculture experts and economists from the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture have trekked to Louisville for the Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) Annual Meeting this week, and their yearly agricultural update and outlook for the coming growing season.
The last couple of years have been filled with record-breaking news, as Kentucky’s farm-gate cash receipts have neared or finished above the coveted $5 billion mark; a milestone, and under tough economic conditions, to say the least. Add to that one of the driest seasons in decades, this year’s announcement becomes that much more anticipated.
Regardless of the numbers, KFB President Mark Haney is optimistic about the industry, knowing firsthand as a farmer the challenges in growing a crop.
“Kentucky is home to some of the most resilient, hardest-working farmers in the country, but this was admittedly a tough year for many of us. This summer’s drought left several farmers with extraordinarily dry land, reduced yields and a shortened growing season,” he said.
“This is sometimes the unfortunate nature of farming, and is further evidence of just how dependent our farming economy is on water. But it doesn’t mean that our farms weren’t productive overall or that the long-term outlook is completely bleak. We’ve weathered the storm, we’ll plant again in the spring and Kentucky’s farmers will go back to producing the food and fiber that fuels our nation.”
The 2011 season marked the first time in the state’s history ag receipts reached above the $5 billion level. This year saw a promising corn crop decimated in the field by dry conditions coupled with record heat at the crop’s most critical and vulnerable time.
This will likely affect the bottom line, but there have still been successes in the ag industry. Grape producers in many areas reported good harvest expectations, since grapes are a good drought crop. Fruit and vegetable growers were also on track to have a productive year.
If early-season projections hold, Kentucky’s produce industry may reach the $33 million income mark for the first time this year.
Tim Woods, UK agricultural economics extension professor, is the principal investigator for the 2012 Kentucky Produce Planting and Marketing Intentions Grower Survey and Outlook. He said though producers struggled with drought issues like everyone else, they tend to have a little more intensive production and a lot more irrigation than what one would see with grain crops, hay or livestock.
“We have some folks that have had surprisingly really strong crops and even some surplus crops,” he said.
Tobacco growers have had a good growing season, as well. The July rains after a crippling June heat wave came at the right time for many producers. Burley production is estimated to be up 16 percent from last year. The latest USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service information listed stripped tobacco as being 1 percent very poor, 5 percent poor, 19 percent fair, 59 percent good and 16 percent excellent.
Last year’s UK Outlook report noted: “The economic outlook for Kentucky agriculture next year is dependent on weather patterns, trade/global economies and the responsiveness of U.S./world agriculture to tight supply levels.”
So far the weather has been one of the biggest issues in ag, next to the lack of a new farm bill. Many areas are still suffering from drought, but most of Kentucky has recovered to some extent.
While grain supplies have been low, the latest USDA estimates listed world and U.S. grain and oilseed supplies as looking to be larger than expected. Ag exports have remained strong through the year and the latest USDA Economic Research Service report expects next year to be even better, with an estimated $145 billion in agriculture exports, up over $9 billion from 2012.
All this will figure into the bottom line for farmers this year and into the forecast UK experts will deliver this week.