By Steve Woodhouse
Like everywhere else in the Heartland, Marion County's crop and livestock operations are being hit by the ongoing drought and excessive heat wave. The conditions will not only affect farmers, but all consumers in the future.
“It's affected people everywhere,” Marion County Farm Bureau President Mary Van Zante. Van Zante raises corn, soybeans, hay and cattle. Livestock is suffering as most pastureland is dead for grazing. Hay has been affected and some water sources have dried, forcing farmers to find other ways to keep their animals hydrated.
Local farmers were hoping for a good harvest this year, but those hopes have been dashed. Crops throughout Marion County and much of the state have suffered a great deal of stress. Most (60 percent) rated as poor to fair, and deteriorate with every day this heat wave and drought continues.
The problem can be traced, to an extent, to this winter. Marion County had little snowfall this year, which did not create a level of subsoil moisture to withstand the dry conditions that have followed this spring and summer.
Some counties are better off than others. Marion County crops are in better shape than those in the southern tier of the state, but not as good as Jasper County. Jasper has had more rain.
Droughts wear on farmers, as most are forced to helplessly watch their crops deteriorate. Their profits shrivel with them. Crop insurance is available for farmers, otherwise the weather this summer would be disastrous. Van Zante believes this summer may force a few family farms out of the business, but not nearly as many as would be lost without crop insurance.
Crop insurance is not the same as a good harvest. As Congress continues to work on the new Food and Farm Bill (farm assistance is actually a very small portion of the overall bill), direct payments are expected to end.
“Under both the Senate-passed and House Agriculture Committee versions of the bill crop insurance would receive additional dedicated federal funding, so crop insurance would continue as a key element of federal farm policy and indeed would be strengthened,” Sen. Tom Harkin said via e-mail. “I was particularly encouraged that the 2012 farm bill that passed the Senate continued vital programs and adopted important reforms, such as ending direct payments and replacing them with a revenue protection program containing key features of the revenue program I was pleased to include in the 2008 farm bill. Replacing the direct payments with a more effective and more responsible farm income system is a reform I have long advocated and am very pleased to see adopted in this bill,” Harkin added.
“I believe everybody is going to feel the effects of this widespread drought,” Van Zante said. With less to bring to market, food costs will rise. There will still be plenty of food to keep America, and much of the world, fed.
But agriculture's contribution to America's trade balance in the world cannot be understated. Less products available to ship will affect the economy in this way as well.
“American farmers are the world's most productive farmers,” Van Zante said. Farmers also spend money locally, which means a poor harvest will lead to less money to fuel area businesses.
Winter was virtually non-existent in Marion County this year, so most farmers planted early. Harvest is expected to begin early as well.
“Farmers are eternal optimists,” Van Zante said. Most will begin to consider their next planting season soon. Some factors farmers consider when they plant include which crop to plant where, crop rotation, tilling, when to plant, whether or not April is too early even if conditions are right, how many seeds per acre, how deep to plant the seeds and which herbicides and insecticides to use.
“We're used to taking risks, but this is much worse than can normally be expected,” Van Zante said.