Help for Drought Stressed Farmers

“All the hay we made so far this summer is sold,” I told the farmer. “But I can add your name to our list and let you know about our third crop hay.”

The man called from Wood County. He needed organic hay for cattle. In a normal year I would be glad to fill his order. But this summer has been anything but normal.

From Dane County to Hayward to Iowa, folks are calling our farm for hay. Many farmers are scrambling to line up winter feed. Crop farmers are checking fields, estimating yield and calling their insurance agents. Most livestock farmers don’t have crop insurance.

Everyone is praying for rain.

In western Wisconsin, we woke up to rain the other day. Most of the state received some rain. This should benefit the soybean crop. Most of the beans are blooming and crop reports say 40% have set their pods.

Corn is a different story. Forty three percent of the statewide corn crop is listed as poor or very poor. As far north as Trempealeau County, farmers decided to chop corn for silage. Further south conditions are much worse.

In Missouri, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports 54% of the state’s corn crop is in very poor condition; 38% of the Illinois crop is similar. Forty six percent of Iowa’s corn crop was rated poor or very poor. Iowa and Illinois account for about a third of the corn production in the US.

Corn growers are looking to salvage what they can from drought stressed fields. It’s been a hard year to price forages. Our local extension agent was helpful in getting hay priced. I encourage folks to use the resources offered by UW Extension. For example, extension staff compiled a spreadsheet to assist farmers in pricing drought stressed corn as silage. You can find the worksheet here: http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/WCM/pdfs/W187_revised.pdf

The hard-working team at UW Extension created a useful website to deal with many issues related to the drought at http://fyi.uwex.edu/drought2012/

From free permits to haul over weight load limits of hay to resources for families financially stressed by the drought, the website is amazingly diverse. Be sure to check back as resources on the site change to respond to changing conditions.

Recently USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced emergency authorization for harvesting pasture land set-aside in the Conservation Reserve Program. Farmers can begin grazing or haying CRP land beginning August 2. Haying can continue through the end of this month; grazing until the end of September. Farmers must contact their local Farm Service Agency before getting started.

Emergency loans are also available from FSA to cover both farm and living expenses. Not all farmers are eligible, so it would be wise to check with FSA if you are considering a low-interest loan.

With corn prices at an all-time record high in the US, many are worried about rising costs of food. Yes, corn syrup is an ingredient in much of America’s diet. Certainly livestock owners need to worry about feed costs.

But farm groups remind us that the farmers’ share of the food dollar has been dropping for years. There is a box of corn flakes in my Capitol office to remind me how little farmers take out of the grocery store price you pay – ten cents out of a $3.89 box of corn flakes goes to the corn farmer.

While this year’s Midwest drought will have an effect on food prices, there are other matters that cause a rise in prices - even before the drought. Last year’s drought in the Southwest caused an estimated 47% drop in breeding cattle. Prices also headed up because of an increase in exports for both grain and meat according to market analyst Chris Lehner.

We live in a global food market and can expect prices in the grocery store to reflect conditions across the globe. But for farmers on the phone all day trying to find hay for their cattle - the effect of the drought is all too real.