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Farmers grow glum about decreased crop prices



Published: Sun, June 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A crop report predicted good weather would help farmers produce near-record yields of corn and soybeans, but ...

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

WARREN -- Despite abundant sunshine, ample rain and expectations of a near-record crop, local farmers are looking at another year of struggling to pay bills.

Prices for Trumbull County's two greatest cash crops -- corn and soybeans -- hover near record lows after three years in the dumps.

"Most of the guys may be able to do it this year," said Patty Davis, executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency serving Trumbull County.

"But another year of this? Who knows?"

The numbers: Tuesday, for example, corn was going for $1.89 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, about 60 cents less than local farmers say they need to make a profit, and only 15 cents higher than the 22-year low of last August.

Soybeans were trading at $4.39 a bushel, 38 cents off a 27-year-low set in 1999, and $1.10 less than what farmers say they need. Local prices reflect national and regional trends, said Ernest Oelker, extension agent for agriculture and national resources in Columbiana County.

"It is definitely the lowest if you factor in the fuel prices and the fertilizer prices," said Glenn Smith, a Mecca beef farmer and president of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau. "Quite frankly, the depressed prices are depressing to me."

Early planting: A dry early spring allowed farmers across the Mahoning Valley to get seed in the ground earlier than usual.

The USDA's May crop report predicted that good weather would help farmers produce near-record amounts of corn and soybeans per acre, but Smith said he decided to let 50 acres lie fallow this year, rather than risk selling corn at a loss.

"It is killing us," said Robert Miller, a third-generation farmer, whose partnership farms more than 3,000 acres in the northern part of the county.

Overall, low prices have not driven land out of production, say people familiar with the business. The region has produced record crops for two consecutive years, said Lee Lipp, a grain merchandiser at Agland Co-op in Canfield.

"A lot of guys are looking to expand acres because they make so little off of each one," he said.

Causes of slump: Several factors contribute to the price slump, said Marlin Clark, who buys and sells 5 million bushels of grain per year from the Andover offices of The Scoular Co. of Omaha, Neb.

The foot-and-mouth disease scare in Britain, leading to the wholesale slaughter of animals, has reduced the demand for animal feed, as has concern over mad cow disease.

Some in Europe are uneasy about buying American grain for human consumption because they worry it may have been contaminated with genetically engineered strains approved only for animals, Clark said.

Asia, as well, has not been buying as much grain since the financial crisis there three years ago, and American farmers are competing against increased exports from Brazil and Argentina.

"The modern American farmer feeds 300 people and has trouble feeding his family," Clark said.




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