Drought, crops, cattle make agriculture news

By Jim Suber

Batting around a few current topics…we continue dry…farmers and stockmen are becoming caught in a new cost-price squeeze…sold farm land last year was 74 percent bought by farmers…demand and prices for most farm commodities are falling.

The good news is that some of the climate/weather experts are saying the drought should start breaking up later this spring and summer. The trouble is, some places will probably receive too much rain and others, like us, won’t get enough in time before the heat and the crop demands suck it up to recharge the subsoil sufficiently, these same experts said. Also, that’s what they said at this time last year.

The consumption charts for the meats beef, pork and poultry indicate a sharp decline in recent months. People are eating less because they feel they don’t or cannot spend as much money. On the other hand, producers like cattle feeders have seen costs skyrocket for feed and other supplies in the last few years, so much so that the costs per day per head of cattle on feed have more than doubled in some cases. Experts project much lower net farm income levels beginning in 2014 due to lower prices for farm products and higher costs for farm inputs. As noted, that has been going on a few years for meat and dairy producers.

As pointed out last week, the national cow-calf herd is way down from levels of just five years ago, the lowest since 1952. People love beef and pork, but I witnessed a few days ago a very animated account of a man going to the grocery store to search for some beef steaks to barbecue for a small gathering. After searching the top offerings, he looked for the day-old, but wound up putting them back. His eyes rolled. He left and made other plans. Other people are now admitting they share $7 a pound steaks that a few years ago would have been hardly enough for one, much less two persons.

Exports of beef and pork are the only bright spot out there right now, some market analysts are saying. The demand for beef is now a little above what it was before the horrible mad cow disease reaction that cut off much of our exports. Japan’s recent relaxing of the age maximum allowed for cattle slaughtered to supply the beef to 30 months from 20 months was a big help, the industry says.

Corn demand is falling, mostly caused by high prices the last few years that increase costs of feeding animals and making ethanol. Some experts think corn will fall all the way to $4 a bushel.

Meanwhile, demand for another corn product, ethanol, is off by 11 percent, according to official sources.

What about wheat? Well, most of Kansas is said to need up to nine inches of rain in order to bring the drought level up to just below normal. Much of the wheat is just sitting there in dry soil right now. There is still time with the right conditions to have a big crop, but that time is also ticking away with each day of no moisture or paltry moisture, not even heavy dew. A friend building fence a few days ago reported dry dust all the way down to 4.5 feet. A rural water district reported to patrons that 24 of the 27 new customers joined because their private wells had gone dry. I think we can say the subsoil moisture is nil.

Jim Suber can be reached at

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | The Manhattan Mercury, 318 North 5th Street, Manhattan, Kansas, 66502 | Copyright 2017