Time for farmers to get the message


Maybe it’s time to think about doing things differently, farmers.

You can’t tell by Minnesota weather, but there’s still a drought underway in the country, and that’s bad news for many of the nation’s farmers.

“We can’t take much more of this,” the Associated Press quotes farmers as saying in a story today.

“You always know that there’s going to be a year when you have a failed crop or some sort of disaster,” Walker says. “Normally you can manage one year, but when you go to two or three years, you’re left questioning your choice of occupation. It can set you back on your heels.”

Still, he remains an optimist. Though as much as 80 percent of his wheat may be damaged from the drought and freeze, he sees any losses as a temporary setback. “We won’t shut down,” says Walker, who farms with his father. “We will get through this one way or another.”

The merciless drought that ravaged large sections of the Midwest and Plains is over, disappearing this spring in a dramatic weather reversal: heavy rains and floods swamping fields with mud in many areas. But some farmers and ranchers in parts of the West and the Plains, including southwest Oklahoma, are pondering the prospect of another year of a desert-like landscape and a disappointing harvest.

But many farmers are going to have their losses covered by government-backed insurance even if things don’t go so well. And, Bloomberg News suggests, they’ll be right back next year doing the same thing, shielded, the story this week said, from “the full burden of their bad bets.”

Drought helped drive the cost of crop insurance to a record $17.2 billion last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. But there is little effort by authorities to persuade farmers to dial back on crops in an era when weather extremes are more apparent.

We have given farmers incentives to take on more risk rather than give them an incentive to create a permanent solution,” said Vincent Smith, a professor of agricultural economics at Montana State University in Bozeman. “You want to move toward programs that allow them to alleviate problems before the fact.”

USDA subsidies encouraging farmers to ignore addressing extreme weather are harder to justify, Smith and other analysts insist, when automatic budget cuts remove 5 percent from most U.S. programs and lawmakers prepare to craft a new five-year farm law.

(Photo: Associated Press)

  • MikeB

    Completely agree. Though if they are sheilded from the impacts of weather then they have no reason to change. In that case weather volatility may be their friend.

    I keep seeing quotes from red state Senators about the evils of dependence and the values of “making it on your own”. Doesn’t apply to ag policy I guess.

    Free market discipline for thee, but not for me

  • Bark

    Keep in mind that crop insurance is *not* full coverage. Only a portion of the crop value is covered. So unless you can prove otherwise, I wouldn’t say farmers have a their losses covered.

  • Dan

    I hate most of the government sponsored ins. programs, but in this case I think it is a necessary evil. without it many farmers would not be able to keep going, and you would see the rise of the “WAL-FARM” and the costs of grains go through the roof. this would affect the price of almost every item we buy and depend on. I think within ten years you would see prices triple for things like beef, ($6 per lbs.) cereal ($10 a box)

    chicken eggs, flour or anything made with grains.

    Also, don’t forget 10%of our gas is made from corn and any increase in corn will be passed along in gas prices further driving up prices on EVERYTHING you buy.. still feel that we should stop covering farmers?

  • RexNearAnoka

    They could be growing hemp which is resistant to drought. But the agri-giants like Monsanto don’t want us using the land for crops that don’t need pesticides and herbicides. Our political system is so backwards it wouldn’t permit the growing of such an economically and ecologically diverse crop as hemp because it infringes on their delicate (and hypocritical) standards of social mores. So in this case we are reaping what we sow, literally. And we all know what ultimately happens to societies who can’t adapt. Or won’t.

  • M.K.

    I am not an agricultural expert nor a legal expert. My question is this: what exactly do they mean when saying “dial back in crops”? Does it mean plant less per area, allowing a greater plant:water ratio? Does it mean to plant the same density, but on less of an area?

    What else would a farmer do instead of planting crops? If they have no current livestock, I cannot imagine the potentially gigantic up-front costs and interest on the loans to begin holding livestock.

    If I was placed in shoes of a farmer for half a season, I have no doubt that I would inadvertently bankrupt the farm, fair weather or not.

  • Betsey

    Until hemp can replace corn and wheat in the food we and our animals eat, it’s a canard. Big ag will ruin this country faster than anything else you can think of. Monsanto and the like are the harbingers of doom.

  • Ck

    If farmers weren’t shielded from part of the risk of farming, then no family farms could survive. Also, as has been pointed out, insurance covers most of the losses, but that does not guarantee an income. Working like a dog for a entire year where you only break even and don’t get a profit is not how anyone wants to live. Also, consider that it’s not easy to just switch what you plant. Farmers have hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment invested in traditional crops, so switching crops is a huge investment and big risk. Could the government create incentives for farmers to think proactively about new crops? Yes, but they would have a lot of opposition from the seed industries! This is a complicated issue, perhaps not easily summed up in such a short blog post.