Drought dries profits

By Richard Snowden

The lengthy drought period Illinois experienced this summer reduced this year’s crop yields, although not as dramatically as anticipated.

According to national data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, national corn production for 2005 is forecasted at 10.9 billion bushels, a drop of nearly 8 percent from 2004. Production of soybeans, another major Illinois cash crop, also is forecasted to fall nearly 5 percent this year.

In Illinois, the drop in production is expected to be greater than the national average. The Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service reported corn production is down 17 percent and soybean is down 14 percent.

Sarina Rincker is an agricultural statistician with the NASS Illinois field office.

“Throughout the last couple of months, the drought was expected to take a big toll on [Illinois] crops this year,” Rincker said. “We don’t have the final numbers yet, but it looks like the drought’s effects were not as bad as was feared.”

Mike Hardt, assistant manager of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, agreed crop production in the area appeared to be fairly good despite the lack of precipitation.

“We don’t have the final numbers in, but we’re hearing that the drought hasn’t affected yields as much as anticipated,” Hardt said. “Given the small amount of rainfall, the farmers in our county have been surprised at how good the crop yield has been.”

Local farmers attributed the relatively minor yield losses to several different factors.

Arthur Bingham, a local farmer from Clare, said hybrid seed technology played an important role in mitigating the drought’s effects on crop yields.

“I think the genetics, being able to breed plants that resist drought, definitely helped save our bacon this year,” Bingham said.

Timely rainfall also helped offset the drought’s effects, said Paul Taylor, a farmer from Esmond.

“The crops were at least better than we had thought they would be,” Taylor said. “The rains we had in August definitely helped save us, and the hybrids we’re using now that are more drought-resistant made a big difference, too.”

Hardt said many area farmers will likely experience some loss of income despite the higher-than-expected crop yield.

“Farmers in our county have so many different types of operations that it’s hard to say exactly how the drought has affected them financially,” Hardt said. “Any time you have a reduced yield, though, it’s basically like taking a cut in pay.”

Taylor said farmers’ prospects for the current harvest season depended largely on the size and financial status of operations.

“I think producers that were already operating on narrow financial margins have been hit hard this year,” Taylor said. “Farmers who have been in business for some time and own a good bit of land probably aren’t suffering too much since they’re established. But the newer, less established farmers aren’t doing so well.”

The lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Port of New Orleans and the Mississippi River Delta also hurt Illinois farmers, Bingham said.

“The cost of transporting our crops has gone up probably 15 or 20 percent after the disaster in New Orleans,” Bingham said. “That’s another factor that’s contributing to making this a pretty harrowing harvest season for a lot of people.”