WASHINGTON — Drought conditions throughout the country are affecting hay production and corn and soybean crops, which doesn't bode well for dairy and livestock farmers.
“We don't have a dollar loss estimate right now, but some of the crops that have been hit are the yields in corn; peanut growers need some water desperately, soybeans also — and all that will affect food,” Becky Walton, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, told SN.
“As far as livestock, dairy, poultry, beef, all of those, the farmers have in place good management practices like fans in their barns, sprinkler systems and things like that to keep them cool, but it is very hot as well as dry.”
The drought has been going on in South Carolina since June, but has recently escalated, Walton said.
“We are also in a hay deficit state, so hay is another issue where farmers are going to have to import it from other states,” Walton said.
“Most of the states around us are in the same predicament we are, so it would have to be from long distances, which means higher fuel costs, which means higher prices for hay.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued drought disaster declarations in counties throughout Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
On Aug. 16, the USDA announced that it was distributing $16 million in new Emergency Conservation Program funding to help farmers and ranchers in 18 states rehabilitate land damaged by natural disasters or drought.
In Tennessee, drought conditions have severely impacted crop production. Preliminary estimates are that losses range from 30% to 70% in some areas of the state for major crops such as corn, wheat and soybeans, according to a release put out by Tennessee's governor's office in early August. Poor pasture conditions and decreased hay production have also forced many cattle producers to reduce their herds and to seek alternative watering sources.
“It's hard to put a dollar figure on the damages to Tennessee farmers until harvest is complete, but it's safe to say that it means hundreds of millions of dollars in lost farm income,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens in the release.
“Although weather is always a risk in farming, what makes this year different is the double impact of the freeze and drought on all 95 counties.”
Back in April, Tennessee farmers were hit hard with record low temperatures that devastated many of the state's crops, including fruits and vegetables, nursery products and winter wheat.
Heat and drought don't affect poultry production much anymore because of widespread use of tunnel ventilation in the chicken houses, Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, Washington, told SN. Production is in fact a little ahead of last year's pace; however, chicken prices are increasing because of the already high cost of corn feed, said Lobb.
“Drought would cause a problem for us mainly through its effect on corn and soybean production,” Lobb told SN.
“The drought is very spotty — the coastal area of the middle Atlantic states has been hit really hard, and it looks awful down there.”
According to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, for the week ending Aug. 19, 18% of the corn crops in the 18 states that planted 93% of last year's corn acreage are in very poor to poor condition. Tennessee fares the worst, with 59% of its corn crops in very poor to poor condition and 0% in excellent condition. North Carolina has 42% in very poor to poor condition.
For the same time period, 18% of soybean crops across the 18 states that planted 96% of last year's soybean acreage are in very poor to poor condition, with Tennessee again faring the worst, with 60% of these crops in very poor to poor condition.
“We just hope it rains,” said Walton.