The question that is likely on everyone's mind: Just how many crops
will be lost this year because of the drought?
likely to be very high this year," said Peters, referring to crop
yields across the county.
From the early start of harvest, fields were yielding different
amounts. Final averages were anticipated to be extremely low in
Logan County. In late September, still weeks before all fields would
be in, Peters speculated that the percentage of crops lost this year
would probably be at least 30 percent, possibly even closer to 50
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Survey, or NASS,
in the last five years Logan County has produced an average of 181
bushels per acre in corn.
Peters said that so far this year, he has heard a lot of farmers
reporting harvests of only 50 to 75 bushels per acre of corn.
"Occasionally we've heard of someone getting 130 bushels, but that's
still low," said Peters.
But the drought is not only drying the crops out. Such a dry heat
provides a perfect environment for aflatoxin to grow and spread.
Aflatoxin is a fungus that grows on crops. Host crops are
particularly susceptible to the infection of aflatoxin under dry,
hot conditions. In other words, the drought of 2012 provided the
perfect climate for aflatoxin levels to rise.
"A lot of the farmers are hauling their corn straight to the
elevators because of the aflatoxin," said Peters.
Normally, corn may be stored in bins before it is taken to an
elevator. However, since aflatoxin will naturally spread in a bin,
storage has not been a feasible option.
The FDA limit on aflatoxin is 20 parts per billion for corn that
can still enter the market. Depending on the toxin levels found,
some loads rejected at the elevator can still be used for animal
feed so long as they do not exceed certain levels:
Corn for lactating dairy animals may not exceed 20 ppb.
Corn for breeding beef, dairy cattle, breeding swine or
mature poultry cannot exceed 100 ppb.
Corn for finishing swine of 100 pounds or greater cannot
exceed 200 ppb.
Finally, corn for finishing
beef cattle cannot exceed 300 ppb.
According to survey results from the Illinois Department of
Agriculture, as of Sept. 13, 32 out of 136 samples, or 23.5 percent,
of Illinois corn tested had aflatoxin levels above 20 ppb.
In 2011, only six out of 397 corn samples contained more than 20
ppb of aflatoxin.
As for Logan County this year, nine of the samples reported have
contained between 50 and 100 ppb of aflatoxin.
Peters said the situation concerning aflatoxin this year has been
reminiscent of the problem with diplodia in 2009. However, that
year's growing season had the opposite problem: a very wet season as
opposed to a dry, hot season.
Long-lasting and extreme daytime temperatures, the lack of cool
night temperatures, poor soil moisture, no rains when needed for
pollination processes, as well as the growing presence of aflatoxin
-- all took their toll on yields this year.
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In turn, the reduced crop yields affect livestock farms as well.
Lower crop yields result in higher grain costs, therefore higher
costs for feeding livestock. Also, the presence of aflatoxins in
feed can result in sow abortions and death in young piglets.
Another side of agriculture that has been affected by the drought
is the business aspect of farming. As a result of the drought,
farmers will be looking to cover their financial losses.
Unfortunately, the farm bill expired in September. There is
currently no legislation to ensure price protection for the farmers.
There is a new bill sitting in the House of Representatives, but
progress has stalled.
As for what farmers can do to protect their investments, Peters
advised: "Document everything, just in case something should happen
that would include this season." Peters also said that farmers
should make sure they keep their insurance agents up to date on
every possible claim they may have to file.
According to statistics from the University of Illinois, 78
percent of farmers in Illinois have some form of crop insurance. Of
the acres planted, 59 percent are insured with revenue protection
and 7 percent are insured with a group risk income plan.
Insurance payments made to farmers will depend largely on crop
prices. As of Oct. 12, projections placed corn at $7.50 per bushel
and around $15.50 per bushel for soybeans. However, both prices will
likely be higher than these projections. As a result, insured
farmers will likely receive large insurance payments.
As an example, an actual yield of 120 bushels per acre would
result in an insurance payment of $210 per acre for a $7.50 harvest
While Peters was unsure of specific figures, he also commented:
"I'm not positive if insurance premiums will increase much, because
they derived from a multiple-year loss ratio data, so when you
figure in one bad year, the overall effect won't be seen directly;
but don't be surprised to see some changes, plus we will have to see
what corn and soybean prices are in February before we really know."
On a final note, Peters commented on the state of the
Conservation Reserve Program. CRP is designed to protect areas of
land from erosion, to aid in the filtering of streams, as well as to
create habitats for wildlife. The Commodity Credit Corp., under the
FSA, provides rent to farmers who lease parcels of their land that
they are not using for crops or livestock.
Peters said he does not think that a lot of farmers will pull out
of CRP, as the land in question is usually unusable, or at the very
least, less productive. Typically, in Logan County, land in CRP is
near too much water to be of use for crops.
"Everything is just up in the air right now," said Peters,
referring to the drought's effect on every aspect of agriculture.
Note: John Peters is the executive director of the Logan County
FSA office, under the USDA. The USDA is responsible for the Risk
Management Agency. The RMA provides guidelines and rules to the
various insurance agencies that offer crop and livestock insurance
to farmers nationwide.
Be sure to check out all the articles
Outlook Fall 2012 magazine:
Yields: Complicated by aflatoxin
Hybrids saved us
Insurance claims in drought
Impact of drought on ag loans
Droughts: 1988 vs. 2012
Roundup: A view from all sides
How were the
farmers markets affected?
Introduction: Troy Rawlings