With the record heat and little rainfall this summer, Southern Illinois farmers are struggling to stay afloat as they finish harvesting their crops, which are producing some of the lowest yields many of them have ever seen.
With the record heat and little rainfall this summer, many local farmers are struggling to stay afloat as they finish harvesting their crops, which are producing some of the lowest yields many of them have ever seen.
For most people the drought of 2012 is the worst they have experienced, the hottest and driest since the drought of of 1936, according to Jim Angel, state climatologist.
The drought has affected some farmers more than others, depending on whether they irrigate, what crops they planted and what type of soil is on their land, in addition to many other factors.
Farmer Randy Anderson, whose farm is located outside Galatia, has been hit hard by the drought. His corn crop only averaged about 10 bushels an acre this year, compared to his usual average of 125 to 165 bushels an acre. On the other hand, farmers who have access to underground aquifers, like Shawneetown farmer Steve Scates, were able to irrigate their crops and will see fewer loses in their crop yields. Jason Bosaw, of Howard Brothers Farms, also farms in the Shawneetown area and said being able to utilize water from the aquifer to irrigate saved his crops this year. Even with the help of irrigation, Bosaw said the farm's corn yields are going to be lower than usual this year.
“This year we're hoping we can get 70 bushels an acre of corn,” he said.
In a typical year, their farm averages 150 bushels of corn per acre.
Fortunately for farmers like Anderson, the federal government partially subsidizes crop insurance for commodity farmers to ensure a steady food supply for Americans and provide a safety net for farmers in the event of a natural disaster.
The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, which is a component of the USDA's Risk Management Agency, develops and approves premium rates for crop insurance. Private sector companies handle the actual sales and service involved with the insurance business. Crop losses must be due to problems beyond the farmer's control in order to receive a payout from the crop insurer.
Though many people seem to think government-subsidized crop insurance is a new way to reduce the risks associated with being a farmer and is sometimes criticized as a handout from the government, federal crop insurance was first authorized in the 1930s and has been tailored to function as a safety net for farmers who, through no fault of their own, have a bad crop yield and need a little help to keep their farm functioning until next year's harvest.
Anderson described the crop insurance as “supplemental income, but not enough.”
Similar to car insurance, the higher monthly premium paid by the farmer leads to the insurance covering a higher percentage of a farmer's losses in the event of a bad harvest.
“People don't understand crop insurance doesn't provide a full solution,” he said.
Just the operating costs of running a farm will be a financial burden for farmers who were that severely affected by the drought. Anderson is also a livestock producer, making the drought especially tough for him. Three of the four ponds on his property, which are usually used to water the cattle, have completely dried up. Anderson is watering the cows with city water, driving his water bills sky-high.
“That's an added cost we usually don't have to incur,” he said.
In addition, Anderson said “there's no green vegetation for the cattle to feed on,” meaning he has to feed them hay. He has already been feeding hay to the cattle for six weeks, which he usually doesn't start doing until late September or early October.
With the extreme heat, Anderson says livestock are maintaining their weight, but not gaining weight like they should be.
Like most farmers in the midwest, Pope County farmer Grover Webb, who farms corn and soybeans in addition to raising cattle, sheep and shrimp, is struggling, too.
“We don't have a potential to irrigate here because we don't have any aquifers,” Webb said.
To make matters worse, he chose not to purchase crop insurance on his 220 acres of corn, which averaged about 30 bushels an acre this year. He normally averages around 130 bushels of corn an acre.
“I've been farming since 1972 and have never seen a year like this,” Webb said.
Webb is still hopeful about his 300 acres of soybeans that have yet to be harvested, and thinks the shrimp harvest won't be affected by the drought.
“We've given up on our corn crop,” Webb said. “Now we're using the corn to save our cow herd.”
Webb is referring to using the corn crop as silage, often also called fodder, to feed his cattle. Silage utilizes the entire corn plant, including the stalk. Though it can be used as cattle feed after being tested for nitrate levels, silage is not as nutritional as the green vegetation cattle would normally be eating this time of year.
As Anderson put it, feeding silage to cattle is like a person eating a granola bar for every meal. It may keep them alive, but it certainly won't fatten them up.
Most farmers start feeding hay to their cattle in early October, but many have had to cut into their hay supplies from last year to feed their livestock, as the drought has led to a lack of sufficient acreage with green vegetation. Some farmers are worried they will be out of hay before winter, meaning they will have to purchase more, adding to their financial distress.
Webb said he hasn't had to use his silage chopper in at least 15 years, but is doing whatever he has to in order to keep his cattle alive.
“I work at mother nature's behest,” he said. “Mother nature deals me the hand.”
Lonnie Lewis, president of the Farm Bureau for Pope and Hardin counties, has been farming his entire life and has never witnessed such extreme losses due to drought.
“In all my years of farming, I've never seen anything like this,” he said.
However, most farmers have seemed optimistic about the coming years and refuse to let one bad harvest get them down.