Farms hit by bad weather, tariffs — many won’t survive

Duane Dailey

 Good weather isn’t an equal opportunity provider. Some farmers get it. Some don’t. Rainfall isn’t equally distributed. That’s noticeable this year.

Farmers and Extension specialists repeatedly report that some get copious rain while some nearby don’t get any. That happens not just farm to farm, but state to state.

Weather maps show Iowa getting big rains; sometimes too much while Missouri withers. Northern and Eastern Corn Belt seem to get more uniform rainfall this year.

Uneven distribution of rain can makes big impact on corn yields.

It’s not just rain, but cold, heat and sunshine. Those also affect how crops or grass grow.

Beef farms seem hardest hit by Missouri’s sporadic drought. A common report on weekly MU Extension agronomy teleconferences is shortage of grass and hay.

Pasture use continues year around. Corn and soybeans grow in the warm season. Extreme lack of subsoil moisture can cut yields as well. If there wasn’t water down deep the corn roots, which dive deep, might not have developed.

Deep roots sucking water out of the underground water levels keep corn growing in our annual summer dry spells in July and August.

Early on, Missouri’s climatologist told us crop water must come from the sky this year. There’s no deep water reservoir waiting.

For herd owners, drought started last year. With dry weather after the summer slump there was little stockpiling of forage.

 A few years ago, MU Extension started promoting lessons on winter stockpile to help cut feed costs. I’ve written many stories from forage specialists. They tell how to applying some nitrogen fertilizer in August. Even though nothing grows the fertilizer waits there for fall rains, which usually start Sept. 1.

That gives a boost to fall growth, which makes about one third of annual growth in cool-season grasses. That’s left ungrazed on the stump. Fescue can be saved to graze in December and January, non-growing months reserved for hay feeding. Late grazing cuts need for expensive baled hay for wintering herds.

Usually snow doesn’t slow cow grazing in winter. They use their noses to plow snow aside to get grass. Cows do the work.

One big reason I decided I didn’t want to be a farmer was putting baled hay up under a tin-roof hay shed on hot summer days. So, I’d favor cows doing the harvesting.

This year, drought-shorted fall and winter pastures didn’t get a jump start with warm weather in spring. The coldest April weather kept grass from spring growth. That was followed by the hottest May on record. That’s not good for grass growth either. Lack of rain slowed the forage recovery.

As a result, on most farms there was little hay to harvest. Many farmers told of rolling up one-third the number of bales from their hay ground.

Hay prices skyrocketed, while beef prices faltered.

On top of price bad news comes market volatility imposed by unwise trade wars over tariffs.

The tariffs were set without consideration of widespread and unforeseen implications. Farmers are hit hard. Farm products sold abroad offset U.S. trade deficits. That’s our strength, feeding people.

When through NAFTA, we started feeding people in Mexico, migration from there almost stopped. Current floods of migrants come from food-poor countries south of Mexico. They’re not in NAFTA. Our president may not know farm economics nor listen to ag economists.

The world needs our beef, pork, chicken, corn and soybeans. They pay more for quality. No one else can make Prime grade beef like Missouri farmers. Our farms grow higher quality soybeans than Brazil, a competitor.

For a long time, MU food and farm economic analysis went to policy makers in D.C. Not nearly as much now, with decisions made on emotion and politics not on economics. Free trade deals benefit both sides. Ill-founded twitter wars, not so much.

Many farms won’t survive the combo of drought and trade wars.

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