For livestock producers, this time of year is always difficult. One would expect to be preparing for colder temperatures, which means bedding livestock, thawing water and getting ready for calving season in much of the Midwest. This year though has been harder than most even leading up to this point.
Mother Nature unleashed rainfall in the spring that made it almost impossible to plant and for some not planting at all was a reality. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Crop Progress report released on May 13, stated U.S. corn planting was only 30% complete. That was far behind the 66% five-year average.
Summer didn't prove to be much better. In our area of Iowa, producers were forced to seed new hay fields due to winter kill. That combined with less than ideal growing conditions made it a challenge to get a dry cutting off the field. This could be a problem this winter as producers face feeding their cattle.
Currently, row crop farmers are struggling to beat winter storms in the race to get crops out of the field. Iowa is having its latest harvest since 2009. Michigan and Wisconsin are only 74% finished while North Dakota continues to struggle at only 43% complete as of December 9.
Operations much like mine count on getting crops out to run cows on corn stalks. A later harvest means less time to run cows on stalks before snowfall. Not to mention, its been so wet farmers have had little to no time to make stalk bales.
It snowed three times before we could get corn out this year, so I'd say it's reasonable to think our time frame of cows on stalks will be pretty short this year. That means feeding cows longer in a year when we had a less than successful hay crop. To add to the stress, some of us were forced to start feeding cattle before stalks were even available.
A down holiday season
As we wrap up Thanksgiving and move into the Christmas holiday it is hard to lose sight of the stress farmers are under. Sure, many have a lot to rejoice in but in many parts of the ag sector, the down prices and undesirable circumstances are making it difficult for many.
I sat at a family Thanksgiving last week and listened to a dairy farmer talk about the suicide rate within the industry. He explained that a certain dairy publication is even running the suicide helpline number in their magazine. My heart is broken, thinking about a once prosperous business that is crashing rapidly and bringing farmers down in its path.
Let's not forget our hog producers living in fear that any day could be the day that African swine fever (ASF) impacts the United States.
Poultry producers should be excited about recent export opportunities opening up but it's hard not to feel down for our fellow livestock producers.
In a time where livestock producers should be excited about up incoming sales due to holiday parties, they're worried about how they will care for livestock with minimal feed supply, a shortage of bedding and down prices.
I hope that the gift of love and kindness are enough for many families in the agriculture industry this season because, let's be honest, no one needs the added stress of putting gifts under the tree, especially not the small-town farmer just trying to manage on a day to day basis of unknown prices and Mother Nature's crazy wrath.
Better things to come in 2020?
Cattle prices should rebound when the Tyson plant reopens, also demand from China should make cattle prices higher. Same thing with hog prices, assuming the U.S. is not hit with ASF.
There may be a ray of sunshine on the horizon for the dark clouds currently overhead; let's just hope Mother Nature decides to cooperate.