A person not aware of what’s going in this country so far this year would either have to be in a coma or on a vacation outside the United States. We are going through one of the worst droughts in decades and it’s not over yet as weather forecasts predict more of the same at least for the immediate future. The USDA’s August Crop Production forecast out on Friday is going to show some dramatic drops in both corn and soybean output. Some commodity firms are already estimating the corn crop will be well below 10 billion bushels on yields of barely 120 bushels per acre. Remember this spring when the industry was looking at a crop of around 14 billion bushels on yields approaching 165 bushels per acre? Soybean losses aren’t far behind with a crop under 3 billion bushels this year.
Over half the continental U.S. is in some kind of drought category with a large swath of counties in an extreme drought situation. That has farmers already harvesting a corn crop that is going to yield zero grain and and not nearly as much forage as they expected at planting time. UW-Extension Corn Specialist, Joe Lauer, has spent much of his time this growing season writing articles on how to handle drought stressed corn hoping farmers don’t panic and ruin what benefit they may yet get from the crop, especially in southern parts of the state. Lauer has been pointing out that August first should be the target date for making decisions concerning the corn crop hurt by drought. That’s because, he said, “that’s the date when we can make some definitive decisions regarding the success or failure of pollination.” The first option for fields with good pollination is just “to let ‘em go”, Lauer explained. But for fields with 50% of less pollination, it’s decision time. If farmers have grain contracts to fill, those fields also might be left alone as they will also gain two to three tons of dry matter making good corn silage. The toughest decision, Lauer told us is for the fields that have little or no pollination. He said one option is to “plow it down and use the crop as fertilizer and take whatever you can from crop insurance.” Or farmers can harvest it right now and try some kind of double crop system for the rest of the growing season. He recommends trying to find a cheap source of corn seed as “tests at university trials show as much as three and a half tons of dry matter can still come off those fields with early August plantings.”
But while university specialists such as Lauer are busy trying to get farmers through this tough year, Congress has gone home until September 10th without giving farmers much help. The Senate passed a new farm bill earlier this summer but the House never even considered the farm bill their agriculture committee passed earlier this summer as well. Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who has voted against past farm bills and Majority leader Eric Cantor said they were going to put their bill “on hold”, which they have done. As leaders they haven’t been able to bring the right leaning Tea Party members or some left leaning Democrats to any form of compromise. The Tea Party thinks the farm bill is one big subsidy package while the Democrats don’t like the big cuts being proposed to food stamp and other feeding programs. At the last minute, the House took up and passed a sort term emergency aid package that barely passed and has given just about every farm organization in the country ammunition to call out the House leadership on their lack of ability to pass a farm bill, which they say is needed more than disaster aid to give farmers some long term planning tools for future decision making.
On the Senate side, it’s just the opposite. With a farm bill ready to go to a House-Senate Conference, Senate leaders didn’t take up the short term disaster bill passed by the House. Their leadership said,too, that the House should pass long term policy and not stop gap efforts. But Senate Republicans chided their leaders for not at least giving farmers something before they left town for a month.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack the U.S. Department of Agriculture has done about everything it can to help by releasing Conservation Reserve Program land for emergency haying and grazing but without some kind of disaster program he has no money to send out as an aid package through the Farm Service Agency. All disaster aid included in the 2008 Farm Bill, which is still farm law until the end of September, ran out at the end of the last fiscal year because of budget limitations.
September 10th is a long time to wait for Congress to act and there’s no guarantee they will act anytime soon as Congressional leadership seems to be lacking in their ability to bring both sides to the table to reach a compromise. Where are Tip and The Gipper when you need them.