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Crop yields are expected to be low, ag experts say



Published: Sun, September 22, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Agriculture experts say the drought will force some farmers to sell out.

By NANCY TULLIS

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

Mahoning Valley farmers don't yet know the bottom line of this year's harvest, but it doesn't look good.

There's still a lot of harvesting to be done, but local agriculture experts say the combination of a wet spring followed by a late frost and then a drought will add up to a tough year.

Ernie Oelker, Ohio State University agriculture extension agent for Mahoning and Columbiana counties, said farmers with crops still in the fields should harvest them as soon as possible.

He said he's seen some mold on corn plants in the past week and the longer crops are left in the fields, the greater the chance for further damage.

Oelker said national forecasters are predicting the drought will continue, affecting next year's crops as well.

Steve Hudkins, OSU agriculture agent for Trumbull County, said late plantings of soybeans might have benefited from recent rainfall, but most crops are through growing and about ready for harvesting.

The worst result

Oelker said the result of the extended drought will be high feed prices that could force some farmers out of business.

"Even the bigger farms will have a struggle, but high feed prices and low milk prices -- that's a disastrous combination for the smaller dairy farms," Oelker said. "Farmers with 80- to 200-head herds will be going out to buy feed and won't have money to pay for it. I've already had some dairy farmers telling me they don't know why they bother to go out to the barn each day."

Dianne Shoemaker, the Ohio State University extension dairy specialist for northeastern Ohio, said any sharp increases in hay and grain prices would be coming at a time when dairy farmers are seeing little profit due to low milk prices.

She said the prices dairy farmers are paid for their milk are based on milk production nationwide, which is mostly determined by large-market operations in California, New Mexico, Arizona and Minnesota.

She said nationwide milk production is up 4.8 percent, and the more milk available, the lower the price paid to farmers.

Shoemaker said many dairy farmers will look to feed substitutes rather than pay high grain prices, and many will milk fewer cows, getting rid of cows that don't produce well.

What this all means

Long-term, less milk available will eventually result in better prices for farmers, but the short-term will be painful, she said.

She said she's already seen alfalfa prices about $200 per ton, compared to about $160 per ton in an average year.

Ryan Hockensmith, a Penn State University extension agent, said some Lawrence County, Pa.,-area farmers have already made crop insurance claims for a 100 percent loss on corn for grain.

Hockensmith also said farmers harvesting soybeans now may find combining difficult because many of the bean pods are low on the plant and close to the ground.

Soybeans yields so far are about 30 bushels per acre, with a normal harvest closer to a 40-bushel average, he said. Some farmers in better years have seen 50- to 60-bushel yields, he said.




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