New techniques used in farming and ranching prove key this growing season

The growing season of 2012, no matter the geographical location in the United States, is a challenging one.  Amidst one of the worst droughts in a century, dry, hot conditions are wreaking havoc across the nation. According to Bloomberg news (Aug. 1, 2012), more than half the counties in the U.S. were considered drought-stressed. Most of the areas that faced this stress were in corn, soybean and livestock-raising country.  The weather impacts crops as well as meat and poultry, since corn and soybeans – important staples in the diets of many farm animals – are two of the hardest hit crops.

Many consumers are wondering the impact they’ll see at the grocery store. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food prices may increase as much as 4.5 percent following this year’s drought conditions. The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 8, 2012) put some insight to what increased food prices will look like in 2013. According to the article, consumers will spend $32.76 more on food in 2013 – that’s $2.73 more per month. Further, the article recognizes that while the increase may be minimal, during a tough economy, no price increase is welcomed.

Many farmers are wondering how they may survive the drought and, if they do, how this will impact their 2013 resources and management plans after a challenging year.  Counter to popular belief, while many farmers take the opportunity to buy crop insurance to safeguard their investments, like any business owner, crop insurance does not reap huge financial benefits for farmers. Rather, it may cover the cost of their initial investment and allow them to avoid financial devastation.  As such, for many farms, it means dollars for investing in improvements over the next few years could be scarce.

Both farmers and consumers are hurting because of this drought and what is expected to be a serious crop shortage, but not just because of food prices. The agricultural sector is a key factor to a prospering economy that can have impacts beyond food. Agriculture employs 14 percent of the U.S. workforce, or about 21 million people.

Ranchers also encounter many challenges in a drought year. With limited watering resources for cattle on pastures, potential poor pasture quality from the lack of moisture this spring/summer, high feed prices, ranchers and farmers may find it financially difficult to maintain their typical herd size. Rain shortages across the U.S. also have greatly impacted the hay crop as well. Many livestock farmers and ranchers will be searching for hay and pay upwards of more than $200 per ton to feed their livestock throughout the winter.

There is one bright spot to consider.  Despite these weather challenges, thanks to farmers’ and ranchers’ commitments to continuous improvements and new innovations  – such as precision agriculture, no-till farming and seed hybrids that better tolerate adverse weather conditions – America’s food supply should not be as drastically affected compared to droughts 20 or more years ago.  Although some have compared this drought to the one of 1936, it will not have near the devastating impact on the country because of innovations in place today.  

Clearly, our agriculture system always has room for improvement.  But the advancements and commitments U.S. farmers and ranchers have made should be seen as a success in protecting the food supply of America.  This is why our nation needs all types of farms and ranches – conventional, organic, big, small, rural and urban.  As such, in contrast to the grim aftermath of the drought over 70 years ago, today, continuous improvements across all sectors of our agricultural system may help alleviate some of the effects – on the farms, ranches and in the grocery stores – of our current weather conditions.