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Farmers rank this year as hardest ever for them

Nearly half who went through 1980s farm crisis agree

The contents of grain silos, which burst from flood damage, are shown March 29 in Fremont County in Western Iowa after a “bomb cyclone” storm caused Missouri River levees to give way. An August federal report shows that nearly 24 percent of the land usually planted in crops in Fremont County still could not be seeded. (Tom Polansek/Reuters)
The contents of grain silos, which burst from flood damage, are shown March 29 in Fremont County in Western Iowa after a “bomb cyclone” storm caused Missouri River levees to give way. An August federal report shows that nearly 24 percent of the land usually planted in crops in Fremont County still could not be seeded. (Tom Polansek/Reuters)

Crazy weather that disrupted Midwest plantings is adding to farmer stress, with growers ranking 2019 as their hardest year ever.

A survey conducted by Farm Futures showed that 53 percent of respondents said this is the most difficult year they’ve faced as farmers.

And that includes 49 percent of the age group who lived through the farm crisis of the 1980s, according to the poll of 711 growers carried out from July 21 to Aug. 3. Results of the survey were released last week at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill.

Growers already suffering from years of depressed commodity prices now are contending with the loss of export markets as President Donald Trump’s trade war with top soybean buyer China drags on.

Farm debt is expected to rise 3.9 percent this year to $427 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And last year, farm debt-to-income was at the highest level since 1984.

“American farmers are under as much or more stress than during the farm crisis, exacerbated by 2019’s extreme weather patterns,” said Holly Spangler, executive editor at Farm Progress and editor of Prairie Farmer.

Tensions escalated last month during the annual Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour, with the USDA removing its staff from the tour after the organization received a threat. The threat, which was not described in detail, came in a phone call from an Iowa farmer who was not involved in the event, according to the tour’s sponsor.

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At a heated meeting in Grand Island, Neb., crop growers questioned the tour organizers and the USDA about the government’s methodology in determining planted area and yields.

Huge tracts of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska were inundated by water after a “bomb cyclone” storm struck in March and overpowered Missouri River levees.

The flooding wiped out both gravel farm roads and paved interstate segments and delayed farmers’ ability to start planting on time.

Yet the USDA’s crop reports were more optimistic about planting and yields than many farmers thought they should be.

On Aug. 12, both the USDA Farm Service Agency and the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service released reports that, when taken together, showed how much land had been planted and how well it was producing.

Both reports came in well above industry expectations, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, and sent the agricultural markets into a tailspin.

Two-thirds of the farmers polled agreed that weather disruptions are making financial pressures worse.

The survey also found that younger producers are more likely to be stressed than baby boomers or mature farmers, as they usually own less land and are less financially secure.

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Stress also was correlated with growers’ ability to plant. Farmers with higher stress reported in the survey they weren’t able to sow a greater percentage of their acres than the average grower.

American producers were unable to seed a record 11.4 million acres of corn and 4.5 million acres of soybeans as of Aug. 22, according to the USDA Farm Service Agency. Of those, over 381,000 acres intended for corn and over 82,000 acres meant for soybeans went unplanted in Iowa.

That means that about 1.7 percent on average of the total acres for planting in Iowa could not be seeded by late August.

But in some areas, it was far worse than the statewide average. In Western Iowa’s Fremont County, hit especially hard by flooding, nearly 24 percent of the potential area could not be planted, the report found.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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