By STU ELLIS
The drought of 2012 will be long remembered by everyone in agriculture. It has impacted farmers whose crops will yield well less than normal, and some will have no crop. It will eventually impact consumers because they will have higher prices for meat that will be diminished in supply. The drought will impact rural grain elevators which will have less volume to handle, and will need fewer employees to work during the press of harvest. The drought will affect the trucking industry because there will be fewer loads of grain to haul to processors.
It will affect the U.S. economy and have an impact that could rival a long, high spike in oil prices. One would think the U.S. Department of Agriculture would have been on top of it all.
The USDA could have guided people to resources here, provided emergency programs there, and softened some of the regulations that would have freed up resources for those in need.
Climate specialists and meteorologists have said the drought began a year ago. Currently, Illinois topsoil is 99 percent very short of moisture and the subsoil is 97 percent very short of moisture. That does not happen overnight, so there is some basis for their estimate of when the drought began. But the USDA did not acknowledge this devastating phenomenon of nature until this past July 11
when it released the July World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate and statisticians reduced the official USDA corn yield estimate by 20 bushels per acre. That drop did not happen overnight. After the projection of diminished yields by the USDA, the department’s policy staff then announced that three regulations would be eased slightly, but not wholly.
Then the White House wanted daily briefings from the secretary of agriculture about what it was doing about the drought. The USDA is almost playing a surreal game of catch-up, but has a long way to go to meet the needs of the boys on the tractor and in the pasture where the soil is dry and where the economy will feel the pain. And the USDA’s response so far to some simple requests from farmers and livestock producers is mindful of the inflexibility of the bureaucratic structure that helped cause the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I had the opportunity to visit the agricultural heartland of Russia in late June 1986, a few weeks following the Chernobyl mishap. But in the prime farming area where state-operated farms were raising crops and livestock there was also a drought under way. Crops showed stress, and pastures were barren, and the manager of the farm was asked the obvious question: You have irrigation equipment in the fields, why is it not being used?
The response was that it was not allowed by the Five Year Plan until Aug. 1, so there were five more weeks that crops would have to suffer until rules would allow the irrigation to be turned on.
U.S. livestock producers — even those in Central Illinois whose pastures are brown — have been told that Conservation Reserve Acres, which are composed of grass, cannot be used for either livestock grazing or be baled for hay until Aug. 2, because that is the end of the traditional “nesting season”
If the USDA had the flexibility to respond to the drought, it could have assisted livestock producers in one of two ways. On one hand, it could have responded that the economy is more important than the potential of ground-nesting birds being in that area. Or the USDA could have consulted wildlife authorities who would likely have said with the early 2012 spring, the nesting season came early and ground-nesting birds have not been in their nests for the past six weeks.
The USDA’s rule book seems to be a carbon copy of the Soviet’s Five Year Plan, which is no longer in print.
Stu Ellis is a long time editor and observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. Keep up with him on his blog at www.herald-review.com
Guys, I have corn fields on three sides of my home. Those three fields look like the 1939 novel "The Grapes of Wrath" written by John Steinbeck and made into a movie by John Ford in 1940. In our area alone we are 12" short on rainfall for the year. So the little you are starting to see on the National news now will probably hit full on about the end of September or the beginning of October. This will not be good for either side