Pella Chronicle

August 12, 2012

Marion County included in ag disaster declaration

By Steve Woodhouse
The Chronicle

Pella — With little rainfall to speak of this year, several farmers in Iowa are suffering. The federal government responded last week by declaring several counties in Iowa, including Marion County, as disaster areas.

“For our operation, it's not going to help a whole lot,” Marion County Farmer Jim Petersen said. Petersen says the pond that waters his livestock have been getting low. He estimates the depth of the pond is at two feet.

“It's not a very deep pool,” Petersen said. There are farmers hauling water to care for their cattle. Petersen says he will just move his cattle closer to water.

“The livestock man is always the one to take a hit,” added Corwin Fee. Expenses associated with hauling water will not be covered by insurance.

“It's sad, it's disappointing, it's frustrating,” Fee said. Fee is selling his calves a month early. Like most farmers, there is little food or water available.

Fee estimates that 60 percent of his crops can be saved, but it depends on when the crops were planted. As the crops went in early, due to an easy winter, they will be harvested sooner.

Petersen also says his corn fields are unlikely to offer much yield. This is not the worst Petersen has seen, though. He says the 1977 drought was worse.

“It's been such a crazy year,” Petersen said.

“At this point, you're hoping to break even,” Fee said.

On Aug. 2, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack allowed farmers in affected counties to allow haying and grazing on land in the Conservation Reserve Program. This opened up 3.8 million acres of land for these purposes.

“That's not usually good stuff,” Fee said of the quality of the hay and pasture included in the CRP. “It's weedy.” The food available on these lands also has low protein and little nutrition. Most livestock producers will still need to purchase protein or feed.

Vilsack also announced that crop insurance companies have allowed a grace period for farmers' premiums, due to the drought. The companies have also been asked to waive interest on these payments through Nov. 1.

In all, the United States Department of Agriculture has designated 1,584 counties – 1,452 due to drought – as federal disaster areas in the 2012 crop year. All qualified farm operators are eligible for emergency loans.

With increasing costs, Fee and Petersen believe some farms may be lost. Effects of the difficult year for farmers will be felt in the ethanol, food and other industries. This year has also made planning for next year a greater challenge for farmers.

“Any management decision you make can cause you to doubt yourself,” Fee said.

Angie Vos with the Marion County Farm Services Agency, said more programs may be forthcoming. She believes the haying and grazing will have the biggest impact of programs allowed by USDA thus far.

Petersen and Fee are confident they will stay in the farming business.

“You have to have faith that God is in control,” Petersen said.