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Farmers make up for loss

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Heat, drought force locals to rely on crop insurance, plant winter wheat

By Amber Coulter

For most area farmers, the idea of coming out ahead on corn they planted this past spring was abandoned several weeks ago.

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Record heat and drought conditions mean pollen died that usually would allow corn to reproduce. Plants had to use so much energy protecting themselves from the heat, they could not fill their ears to satisfaction.

Cooler temperatures and rain now are too late to salvage the crop, which has been affected throughout most of the nation.

That means local farmers are looking for ways to lessen the impact of the damage.

Matt Adams, a Hardin County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said the loss is large.

Farmers were thinking at the beginning of growing season conditions were right to produce between 180 and 200 bushels per acre, as much as 40 bushels more than is typical. Summer conditions lowered expectations to between 23 and 30 bushels per acre, Adams said.

“The corn’s pretty well gone,” he said.

Crop insurance will allow farmers to ease the losses of one crop each.

Adams said so far soybeans are doing fine for most farmers, saved by rain during the past couple weeks.

The vital time for those plants is approaching, he said.

Some farmers have told Adams they plan to plant more winter wheat than they typically do to recoup some of their losses.

That option particularly is attractive to some farmers because the corn’s lackluster progress means there still is plenty of nitrogen in the soil. With that fertilized soil, a farmer’s input costs for planting more wheat will be similar to planting the amount they usually harvest.

Michael Highbaugh, who farms near Sonora and Upton, plans to plant 650 acres of winter wheat, compared to the 388 he planted last year.

“We’re just trying to take advantage of what’s in the soil,” he said.

Highbaugh hopes the move will help offset some of the loss from his corn and take advantage of nitrogen remaining in his soil.

Fertilizer is his most expensive part of planting and has increased in cost as the price of corn has increased.

Some local farmers also are turning to their meager corn crops to feed their animals because of a lack of hay.

Mike Rider, who raises beef and dairy cattle near Upton, said he thinks hay will be the greatest loss in the area. He has received only a few cuttings from the hay he grows and doesn’t know whether there will be enough rain to allow farmers more than one more small cutting before fall.

The hay loss is greater than it otherwise might have been because high corn and soybean prices meant many farmers rented acres this year to produce those crops. That space normally would have been devoted to hay, Rider said.

“I believe this is the first time there might not be enough to go around,” he said.

Rider always has raised corn to supplement his livestock’s diet of hay. A hay shortage on his farm means he has decided to use the little corn in his fields to feed cattle.

Even that measure likely won’t feed the cattle until next year’s first hay cutting. That means having to buy feed, which will increase the cost of producing milk and beef.

He will plant extra alfalfa and oats this fall, hoping to bridge the gap in the feed he has for his cattle.

Rider expects consumers will feel effects of the corn and hay shortages.

“It’s going to break me first,” he said. “Then it’s going to get to the housewives. The farmers are always the first ones hurt.”

Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or acoulter@thenewsenterprise.com.