Ag News -
State Ag News
Friday, 07 December 2012 23:25
By Amy Bickel
The Hutchinson News
Hot, dry weather took a toll on Kansas crops and farmers' pocketbooks again this year, with the Kansas Department of Agriculture currently estimating the cost of the 2012 drought at more than $3 billion.
Moreover, the warmer temperatures and lack of rainfall continue in a state that has been plagued by some type of drought since July 2010.
It makes the diagnosis evident despite forecasts that the drought could linger through early spring. The Kansas farmland is thirsty and needs a good drink.
Department spokeswoman Mary Geiger said that the department estimates Kansas crop losses at $3.066 billion, with cattle losses not yet finalized.
The 2012 estimate pertains strictly to lost production and the price that farmers would have received, Geiger said.
At Hutchinson's grain terminals on Tuesday, corn was above $7.50 a bushel, soybeans above $14 a bushel and wheat at nearly $9 a bushel.
The 2011 drought cost Kansas production agriculture roughly $1.8 billion, the department estimated last year. Geiger said the drought cost the cattle industry about $366 million in herd liquidation that year as cattle flooded livestock auction houses by mid-summer.
Some compare the parched conditions of the past three years to the Great Depression, with the only difference between today and the 1930s the lack of dust storms blowing across the prairie.
Moreover, it won't take just a few good soakers to get out of the drought.
Reno County farmer and rancher Kyle Geffert said he recalls going through a considerable dry spell one summer when he was growing up on the family farm near Haven. He asked his grandfather when it would rain again.
"He said it always rains at the end of drought," Geffert said.
And, when the drought would end, he told his young grandson, would be when it rains.
Despite poor crops and dried up pastures, Geffert has learned to stay positive like his grandfather.
"We have to be optimistic," Geffert said. "You're an eternal optimist when you're in production agriculture."
Wheat needs a drink
As farmers begin another crop year, the lack of rainfall is beginning to hurt the wheat condition in the western half of Kansas, said John Holman, a Kansas State University Research and Extension agronomist based in Garden City.
About 25 percent of the crop is poor or very poor, while 46 percent is in fair condition, according to the Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service.
Holman said areas that received rain are seeing decent stands. Other areas are sparse and some wheat came up and died.
"I wouldn't call the wheat crop in western Kansas a complete loss. There is still time to get some moisture and make a crop. But the outlook isn't looking very good. It's not a great picture right now."
"I think every farmer wants to know when the drought is going to end," Holman said. "I'm not going to throw my crystal ball out there, but look back at these past droughts. We had real dry years in the 1930s and some dry years in the 1950s and since then we have been in a long run without a number of dry years in a row."
The Department of Agriculture's Geiger said that in 2012, farmers had a 32 percent production loss on corn, 46 percent on milo and 33 percent on soybeans. Wheat production in June 2012 was about average.
While many farmers report crop losses were more significant in 2011, higher commodity prices have caused the drought's dollar impact to be deeper this year.
Claims are still funneling into the Risk Management Agency in Topeka from farmers on losses from this year's crops, said Rebecca Davis, the regional director.
As of Dec. 3, farmers have claimed $830 million in indemnities for this year's crop losses, according the agency. Corn makes up the largest share of claims, at roughly $455 million.
In 2011, farmers reported $1.088 billion in indemnities, the agency reported.
"Over the past several weeks, Kansas indemnity payments have increased from $50 to $75 million each week. Last year at this time, payments were at $668 million."
She said, on average, producers have a 70 percent coverage level, meaning they have purchased coverage at 70 percent of their actual production history yield.
She added that the agency offers revenue coverage on most acres insured in Kansas with 89 percent of the insured acres being on some sort of revenue plan of coverage.
Reno County producer David Stroberg said he cut numbers back after 2011 on his cowherd.
Solar panels installed three years ago on his pastures helped him have a reliable water source as the drought sucked up his ponds. Still, pasture conditions were crippled in the triple-digit heat and no rain, with Stroberg stocking his grassland at just 70 percent of normal capacity.
Conditions remain dire, he said, noting that without adequate rainfall, he might have to stock his pastures at 50 to 60 percent the normal rate in 2013.
For now, his cattle are grazing on green wheat, corn and milo stocks and eating turnip tops, thanks to the mild winter and no snow cover.
"Fortunately, we are still sitting fine on feed," he said. "What helped us a lot is this mild winter. We thought we were going to be short, but our feed consumption is down overall because we don't have the cold temperatures or the snow cover."
"We need some moisture to keep going this winter and produce the bushels going into the summer," he said. "We just need to replenish our subsoil moisture and our groundwater."
It's been three years of drought at the operation Geffert runs with his father. Farm ponds went dry in the family's two main pastures two years ago. Kyle Geffert said he spent five hours a day every day hauling water to his thirsty Herefords in 2011 amid the triple-digit summer heat.
Last summer, he and his father, Lynn, opted to leave the parched and still dry pastures empty - instead using some of the winter feed to keep the cattle closer to home.
"It took a pretty big dent on the hay pile," he said. "But it was either that or haul water again all summer. It was hard on the hay, but at the same time, it was good for the pastures. We didn't chew them off to the ground again. We gave it a break."
With the mild water, the cattle are grazing on milo stocks and the family baled some corn stalks, replanting the fields to a cover crop to maintain some residue.
He knows things could be worse, he added. Some producers in southwest Kansas are experiencing drier conditions.
And, he said, he tries to keep an upbeat attitude.
"The good Lord says he won't give us any more than we can handle," Geffert said, but then added, "But I don't know how much more I can take.
"A good rain would solve a lot of problems for us," he said. "When you get a good rain, especially in an agriculture community, everyone is a little happier - a little easier going."
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