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Vol. 76/No. 29      August 6, 2012

Working farmers bear
brunt of drought
(front page)
DES MOINES, Iowa—Small working farmers are bearing the brunt of the most extensive drought in a half century combined with a major heat wave, which has been wiping out crops in the Midwest and the Great Plains states.

“This is the third time in my lifetime that I have experienced a drought like this,” Garry Klicker told the Militant. “You can’t get over the feeling of devastation that comes from total loss.” Klicker, 66, owns a small farm in southern Iowa. In past years he raised and sold cattle.

“Right now, corn is hurting. I am short of hay. I have to haul water to the cows. But in the long term, I don’t know if we will even have corn to harvest for feed,” Gary Hoskey said in an interview. He has 50 cows and grows corn on 100 acres in Montour.

No one knows how long the drought will last, but currently 88 percent of U.S. corn and 87 percent of U.S. soybeans are in drought-stricken areas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced July 18 that 1,297 counties in 29 states now qualify for disaster assistance because of severe drought conditions.

For the first time ever, the price for wholesale corn topped $8 a bushel—up 50 percent from where it was priced just a month ago. Among the hardest hit by high corn prices are dairy and livestock farmers, who depend on corn, hay and other crops to feed their animals.

“We are going to have to buy $30,000 of hay to make it through to the fall,” said Jerry Harvey, a dairy farmer in Promise City. Harvey helped organize a protest of dairy farmers in 2009, when he and other dairy farmers were losing money on every gallon of milk they produced and were on the brink of losing their farms. “We borrowed $60,000 then. We never got out of the hole.” Because the cost of feeding his 60 dairy cows is so high, Harvey said, “we are going to have to sell some heifers. But everyone is selling, so the price is dropping.” He added that he will be lucky to get half the price for a cow that he got last year.

Cattle farmers “are being forced to sell out a big part of their herds because they will not be able to afford to buy winter feed,” Edward Dunkle, a retired farmer and ranger near Benkelman, Neb., explained to the Militant.

Klicker said working farmers need access to “low interest money and fair prices. But the government and corporations manipulate the prices.” He is wary of government financial assistance, “because in the past, assistance has only fed the super-sized operations at the expense of small farmers.”

The media has been awash with stories about the drought and pictures of farmers standing in dried, withered, brown cornfields. Many articles claim that corn and soybean farmers will not fare badly because of crop insurance. Most corn and bean farmers “are forced to buy crop insurance in order to qualify for loans or other USDA programs,” said Dunkle. “The premiums are very high, while payments cover only a part of farmers’ losses.”

“It’s true that farmers producing milk, livestock, fruits and vegetables are getting hit harder than row-crop farmers,” said Klicker. But insurance for row-crop farmers is “no panacea. The small guy can’t really afford insurance.”

Harvey agrees that insurance would not have answered his problems. “Many small farmers feel we are getting insuranced to death. We can’t afford it.”

While small farmers are gripped in the vice of a crop-destroying drought and skyrocketing feed prices, workers will soon feel the consequences of this disaster in their pocketbooks. The cost of meat, poultry and milk is expected to jump later this year. Fuel prices are also expected to jump, because 10 percent of nearly every gallon of gasoline is ethanol, a fuel additive distilled from corn.

Meanwhile, food commodity speculators salivate over rising prices, agribusiness stocks rise in anticipation of sales of cutting edge seed, and big capitalist farmers positioned to weather the drought look to buy up livestock and land from those threatened with ruin.
Related articles:
UK dairy farmers protest squeeze from cuts in prices  
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