Friday, April 24, 2015

TOP STORY >> Storms hurting farmers in area

Leader senior staff writer

An unusually wet spring has delayed timely planting of some crops, according to Lonoke County Extension Chief Jeff Welch, but the window hasn’t yet closed on rice and soybean planting, he said Friday.

Rain was expected to continue through Friday and into Saturday morning, but with reduced chances through Monday.

But with yields expected to suffer and prices low, at least one area farmer has joined the ranks of former farmers.

Also hampering farmers are new farm bill provisions that halted direct payments and may leave them waiting 12 months for payments, Welch said.

That means some farmers won’t be able to repay bank loans for a year but still need the unpaid banks to fund the next year’s crops. “Will bankers stay with that farmer when owed for 12 months?”

Welch said soybeans might be the only crop that makes the farmer any money this year.


“We’ve got most of the corn planted, and been planting rice between showers,” he said.

Around Carlisle and England, farmers are doing all right, he said, but in the area around Bearskin Lake and across to Pettus and the eastern part of the county, clay soils have kept farmers out of the field. Farmers are really behind, he said.

“I talked to one farmer’s father who said his son hadn’t planted any rice yet,” Welch said. “It’s tough on these heavier clay soils.

“We may have more water-seeded rice,” he said. “Drilled seed takes 100 percent of the time, but water seeded you have to manage water really well.”

For water seeded, on zero-grade fields, the rice is wetted to start germination, then dropped from crop dusters into the mud. If it’s not pegged down, it floats and ends up on the edge of the field.

The wheat has begun to head — about 10 percent to 15 percent of it, but usually by now about 45 percent has headed.


“The danger at this point is hail storms,” Welch said. “With wheat, we almost have to have hail insurance.” Wheat price is kind of low, he added.

He said, if farmers lose on wheat and follow with soybeans, they are likely to lose money in those fields.

With commodity prices depressed, soy is not spectacular, but “it may be the only crop in which we can make a profit.

“We have to make extraordinary yields to break even,” he said. “Rice you need 200 bushels an acre and corn, 200 bushels an acre, to break even.

“You can do that on a couple of acres,” he said, “but not a whole crop.

“Looking at the bottom line at the end of the year, you need soy to hold a profit margin.”

He said one farmer told him he will lose $125,000 from lack of direct payments and prices would hit him for another $150,000.


“That farmer got out of business and several are considering that solution,” he said. The others stayed in because they already had bank loans and planted fields.

“If you were smart two or three years ago, you would have saved back some money to see you through years like this.” Welch said. “If they expanded or bought new equipment, it’s going to end up biting him.

“You’re not in business year-to-year, you have to be in long term,” he said. “He needs a marketing strategy and enough revenue that will keep you in the ball game.”

Welch said that, although drought will badly hurt produce production in California, local farmers couldn’t switch.

He said produce is capital intensive, highly mechanized, with extremely high risk. “You make a lot of money one year, lose it the next. And you have to market it to somebody.

“Other than Odom and Barnhill,” area farmers all grow row crops.

California is automated all the way through. “We’re mom and pop compared to big company agriculture,” he said.