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Farm News & Views - April 19, 2022

As I look at weather reports from the central part of the of the U.S., accounts of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s come to mind. For example, ranchers in Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas have watched as their pastures and ranges creep into a drought not seen for decades. On Wednesday last week though, they got some drought relief, but as one old rancher said, “I sure had mixed emotions about this storm. It was kind like watch’in yer mean mother-in-law drive yer brand new pickup off a cliff”. Ranchers were in the middle of calving season, and almost two feet of snow driven by gale force winds forced ranchers to battle snow drifts and cold temperatures as they struggled to save their calves and momma cows. But some of them had to admit that the two inches of moisture that the storm left was surely needed even if it came with frozen ears, lack of sleep, and loss of life. About seven hundred and fifty miles south, a farmer from Groom, in the Texas panhandle, reported that it hadn’t rained in 144 days on his farm, and that his wheat crop had been living off of the little bit of moisture that was still in the ground, but now, what wheat was still in the ground was being blown out by high, dry winds.

Cattle producers that are confronted with dry pastures and ranges may also face a headwind concerning hay supplies in the next couple of years. The annual USDA Prospective Plantings Report released on March 31st showed a slight increase in acres planted to crops, with corn decreasing in acres and soybeans increasing from from last year, but harvested hay acres are expected to fall again, reaching their lowest level in more than a century. The expectation is that the 2022 hay harvested acres in the largest 10 beef cow states will be 3.7 million acres below its average from 2000-2014, and dry conditions aren’t helping either.

Although agricultural commodity markets have settled down from the extreme volatility that occurred in late February and early March after the Russia-Ukraine conflict started, corn, soybeans, and wheat have all sustained steady increases over the past six weeks, partly because China has gone on a buying spree over the past couple of weeks, probably because of concerns about food security, according to Pro Farms Editor Brian Grete.

While drought is impacting thousands of farmers and ranchers, the Creighton University Rural Mainstreet Index climbed in March from February’s healthy reading and remained above growth neutral for the 16th straight month. The index is based on the monthly survey of bank CEOs in rural areas of a 10-state region dependent on agriculture and/or energy. Other highlights of the survey show that business confidence rebounded for the month, farmland prices continued to increase at a strong pace, when compared to 2021, and the majority of bank CEOs expect that net farm income will be the same as or better than a year ago. About 60% of the bankers expect that farmers won’t face negative effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Canadian poet and author, Margret Atwood wrote, “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.