The 2019 crop year is forcing many agricultural producers everywhere in the U.S. to deal with unusually difficult and uncontrollable issues that are wreaking havoc on their psychological and financial well-being. Atypical weather and frequent changes in agricultural trade policies are just two of the factors which contribute to the uncertainty that farmers face.
Longer-term world-wide factors also contribute to the instability of U.S. farm markets, including, but are not limited to:
• Global overproduction of key food items such as wheat and dairy products.
• Inadequate distribution of readily available food to countries and regions of the world which are poor, lack transportation systems, and/or are undergoing political strife.
• Mounting scientific evidence that some fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and other substances used in the production and storage of agricultural goods can harm the health of consumers, damage the health and productivity of our soil and our planet in general.
• Concerns that agriculture, the use of fossil fuels and the conversion of virgin forests into farmland increase the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, as well as negatively affect weather, crop-growing conditions, and healthy survival of the earth's species, including humans.
• The expected reduction in biodiversity will reduce options for food, materials and energy.
The overall impact of 2019 weather is far from complete but the erratic conditions and responses by government officials are already having an impact on agriculture prices. For instance, when Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in mid-April after he toured flood-damaged areas of Nebraska that a million calves had already been lost by cattle producers in that state, the prices for feeder calves jumped immediately, which was positive for cow/calf operations but negative for feedlot managers and consumers. Death-loss estimates were later revised downward, but by the end of the spring calving season the expected beef calf crop nationwide was estimated to be reduced by over a million head. Chicago Board of Trade futures reflect these concerns in the higher prices for fall feedlot placements.
Along these same lines, a June 15, 2019, Bloomberg poll of farmers suggests that 6.7 million acres of corn and 2.2 million acres of soybeans will not be planted this year due to excessively wet field conditions. Final deferred planting acres will be determined later this summer, but already the prices for old and new corn this fall are considerably higher; soybeans are trending in the same direction.
So, what's wrong with higher prices for beef, corn, soybeans and perhaps some other agricultural items even if tariffs on many U.S. agricultural exports are harming these market prices, and weather damage to most crops is yet to be finally determined?
Actually a lot, because farmers are in an unpredictable era. While higher prices for some commodities are expected, it's unlikely that they will climb high enough for farmers to achieve comfortable levels of profitability. It will take farmers several years of higher prices to recover the losses they have incurred over the previous five years.
Farmers have to deal with an incredibly broad range of uncertainties. Here are several recommendations that might help troubled farm families:
• Coping behaviorally is often more important than coping financially and physically.
• Take time for recovery by sleeping adequately; take breaks from working to restore ourselves; recreate and change the scene from constant stress; exercise if not getting enough already; attend informative community meetings and support groups; pray; and comfort others who need help, hugs and encouragement.
• Be sure to check with county, state, and federal FEMA officials when residing in an area approved for full disaster funding; crisis counseling is free, confidential, and usually suited to the needs of the people in the disaster area.
• The 2018 Farm Bill has provisions for assisting producers of a broader range of crops, dairy, meat, and other commodities than in past years; the USDA programs are just being rolled out; assistance for prevented planting acres and livestock indemnity payments for animals lost due to weather are among the new Farm Bill's provisions.
• Check out the Farmers' Guide to Disaster Assistance (Seventh Edition), which is published by the Farmers Legal Action Group (FLAG), located in St. Paul, Minn., (www.flaginc.org).
• Attend workshops and field days sponsored by farmer organizations such as the local and state Farm Bureau Federations, the Practical Farmers of Iowa (which now has field days in several states besides Iowa), the National Farmers Union, local and state Extension Programs, and community meetings.
• Email the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency Disaster Technical Assistance Center (www.samhsa.gov/dtac/disaster-behavioral-health-resources) for literature or call them at 1-800-308-4515.
• If it seems like there is foot-dragging at the federal level, contact your elected officials in both the Senate and the House; everyone should ask why it is taking so long for federal agencies to assist distressed farmers.
Next week's article will follow up with information pertinent to small farms and producers of atypical agricultural products, such as wine, fruit, nuts, and vegetables.
Mike Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa, psychologist and farmer. To contact Rosmann go online to: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.