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Despite rain, fall crops in trouble

September 22, 2012
By Ilsa Matthes - staff writer ( , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Despite recent rains, the affects of this year's dry summer and early freeze and re-thaw has taken it's toll on fall crops. Troubles could continue if legislators fail to act before the end of the month, according to officials.

"Most of the crops have reached their yield potential," said Warren Schauer, agriculture and farm management educator for Michigan State University Extension.

Between April 1 and Sept. 10, 12.35 inches of rain fell in Cornell - almost 4 inches less than the seasonal average.

"We - the U.P. - managed to have some timely rains when the corn needed it and it may have saved the corn, but the jury is still out until harvest time," said Mitch Towne, county executive director at USDA-Farm Service Agency.

The corn crop nationwide has been struck particularly hard by this summer's drought. According to the USDA, U.S. corn production is down 52 million bushels, with the projected yield now at 122.8 bushels per acre.

"I'm no expert, but if you follow the rules of supply and demand, I'm betting on higher prices on nearly everything," said Towne. "The one potential blessing for U.P. growers is if they have corn to sell, it should go very high."

Farmers raising livestock are also affected by the drought and high temperatures. With hay losses around 50-70 percent and pasture losses around 75 percent locally, many cattle producers may be forced to purchase feed.

Recent rains may be able to save late hay crops. "Hopefully there's a little less chance of winter kill," said Schauer.

Early specialty crops like maple sap were hit hard by the spring freeze and thaw. Fruits, like strawberries and apples, were also affected by the rapid shift in temperature, particularly in the Lower Peninsula.

"They (Lower Peninsula farmers) took a terrible hit this year with the early warm up causing the trees to bud, and then frost to kill the buds," said Towne, adding he had heard reports of 90 to 100 percent losses for fruit trees down state.

Potatoes and other irrigated crops should produce normal amounts this year. However, their market prices may be higher due to the extra money spent on irrigation to offset the dry season.

Farmers could be facing more difficulties if the newest version of the Farm Bill does not pass by Sept. 30. Despite the bill passing in the Senate with bipartisan support, efforts to pass the bill have been stalled in the House. If the bill does not pass by the deadline, the current Farm Bill will expire and U.S. agricultural policy will revert back to the policies of the 1940s.

"Even without the farm bill there are low interest loans available," said Debbie Stabenow, U.S. senator for Michigan and sponsor of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012. "Of course, our farmers don't want to take on anymore loan debt if they don't have to."

The new bill includes disaster relief for farmers. This year all 83 Michigan counties were declared disaster areas.

"We have disaster services, and we've strengthened crop insurance, but we need the economic certainty of a five-year farm bill," said Stabenow.



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