Crops parched by drought
By Maria Amante email@example.com | 648-3072 July 26, 2012 8:19PM
Jerry Hayden, (from left) Bobby Hayden, Chester Graham and Tom Vandercar work together to repair an oil leak on an irrigation system in one of the Hayden family's Eagle Rock Farms corn fields in the Hebron, Ind. area Tuesday July 17, 2012. The very dry conditions this season have put this particular system in heavy use, requiring constant repairs, after sitting idle the past three years with regular precipitation. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 28, 2012 6:03AM
The dire state of Indiana crops means consumers can expect to see price increases for food products soon.
Indiana’s crops are indeed in a serious state, said Chris Hurt, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University.
Citing figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Hurt said 71 percent of Indiana’s corn crop was rated either poor or very poor, while 57 percent of the soybean crop was ranked poor or very poor. He said the poor quality of corn and soybeans had led to 56 percent of livestock pastures being ranked as very poor.
The ultimate cost from the current crop conditions will reach into the billions nationally, Hurt said, with Indiana losing at least $1 billion.
“We don’t know the full magnitude of what that’s going to be, of course, but it’s certainly large,” he said.
Conditions in Lake County aren’t as bad as the rest of the state, Nikky Witkowski of Purdue Extension Service in Lake County said.
“The problem is, Lake County has been getting rain, but it’s been spotty,” Witkowski said. “Some farmers benefitted from the rain we’ve gotten, but some farmers, even if they got rain, if they didn’t get rain when pollination was going on with the crops, that can still make them lose the entire crop.”
Lake County is technically in drought status, but comparatively, Northwest Indiana is doing well.
“We’re barely in it,” she said. “We are only in moderate drought ... we are just abnormally dry. Practically all of Indiana is in a drought status ... it’s mostly in severe or extreme (drought status).”
There are some uses for a poor corn crop, but they aren’t as valuable, she said. Cutting the corn for silage is sellable as feed for cattle, and a typical use for less-than-quality crop, but that’s not a guaranteed use this season.
Still, consumers can expect major food price increases soon. The poor crop conditions will impact all areas of consumables.
The poor conditions for corn and soybeans will result in higher feed prices for livestock and the raw product, and both will spill over to consumers’ wallets, Hurt said, with prices increasing between 2 and 3 percent. The price increase will affect meats, grains, vegetable oils and sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup.
“Those are above what most people’s incomes are going up,” Hurt said, “Food is a necessity, and food is now taking more of disposable income, and people have a little less ability to buy things in the general economy.”
Insurance claims next
The poor conditions have Matt Hayden, owner of Eagle Rock Farm concerned, but he says that in Northwest Indiana, he remains fortunate. His crop isn’t completely gone, compared to many farms in the rest of the state.
“It’s a real dry, average yield,” he said. “You worry, but it’s out of your hands and control.”
Hayden said the coming weeks are critical for his crop and rain is imperative in order for the corn to appear.
He has been using an irrigation system, but said “at a certain point, it’s not worth it.” Irrigation requires extra labor and fuel and other expenses to be successful.
“You get a better crop, but you’re also putting more money into that crop as well.”
Michael Hanger, an agent for Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, said most farmers purchase crop insurance.
“It’s a risk-management tool (farmers purchase) nowadays,” he said. “It’s their livelihood, they can’t afford not to.”
The crop insurance provides farmers with a guarantee every year for either a revenue or a yield from their crops. Most growers purchase a revenue product, guaranteeing them 50 percent to 85 percent of their crops’ worth depending on location.
The policy is calculated based on spring or fall prices in a farm’s production history, and the guarantee is calculated on the coverage level and their production history.
In Lake County and western Porter County, Hanger said, farmers are “holding out” before making claims, but in the southern part of the state, a large number of claims are being made as the crops are not salvageable. The past week, and next few days, are critical for farmers, and without rain, Hanger said he expects to see the number of claims to rise.
He has worked as an agent for five years and said he has never seen conditions this severe. His clients tell him conditions haven’t been this bad since 1988.