At the Farm GateStorm of stressors strike Farm Country
Some call this spring’s collision of farm stressors the perfect storm. Unprecedented planting delays trouble farmers throughout the Corn Belt. Long-duration flooding halts barge movement of crops and fertilizer. A trade agreement with our nation’s neighbors needs ratified to improve markets. Agency actions reduce ethanol volumes and thus corn demand. We fear the uncontrolled swine fever in China may spread. And the trade war that has depressed our crop markets threatens plural tense with recent White House warnings, adding bug bites to a tender sunburn. (Yes, that happened recently, too.)
These issues swirl around our heads like the season’s onslaught of gnats, and no amount of swatting makes them go away. This spring is the most emotionally charged of my generation, and we don’t know whether to laugh, cry or take a ball bat to the rain gauge. The issues facing the agriculture industry change like the weather forecast, so perhaps my thoughts will represent merely a diary entry from shortly after Memorial Day 2019. We cannot recall any other time with so many international, national and state issues impacting farming’s profitability all at once. On top of that, farmers face the real possibility of not being able to plant some or most of their crop.
That fear bothered us the most, particularly in late May when most of our fields still awaited a crop and the extended forecast showed clouds and lightning bolts. It was standing room only at a local prevented plant insurance meeting, an option that generally doesn’t pencil out as well for us nor our agribusiness friends. If Illinois fields sit idle, the ripple effect looks as ugly as a one-inch rain on a ponded field. Returns of seed and pesticides reduce revenue. Fewer manhours to plant, fertilize and spray means less overtime income for employees. The revenue loss continues into fall harvest.
We hold onto hope for better weather (finally improving now), positive trade agreements and better markets. We find reprieve in family time and laugh-out-loud Twitter posts, like farmers who have found fish in their fields. Photos of stuck lawnmowers and tractors buried to their axles in mud make us realize that we’re not alone, as farmers throughout the nation navigate this storm of stressors together.
About the author: Joanie Stiers, a wife and mother of two farm kids, writes from west-central Illinois, where her family grows corn, soybeans and hay and raises beef cattle.