Agricultural economist Brent Carpenter showed capital reserves dropping while debts increased as he moved numbers around on a spreadsheet he designed to model farming expenses over time. Wry laughs emerged from the 25 person audience.
“I know what you’re thinking — this looks a little too familiar, right?” he said.
Carpenter spoke at a MU Extension event Thursday in Boonville intended to help beef cattle farmers impacted by this year’s drought. This week, parts of Cooper County, Howard County and Boone County all received the “exceptional drought” designation, the most severe category of drought. For local farmers, this has had devastating impacts.
“I’m just trying to see what I can do here, and what my options are,” said Robert Felten, a row crop and livestock farmer in the Pilot Grove-Blackwater area.
Due to a particularly dry growing season last year, Felten started the season without any feed reserves. Dry conditions have limited the amount of grazing land available and hay prices have increased significantly throughout the drought, making it far more expensive to feed livestock. Felten, without reserves and wary of another dry growing season, sold 20 percent of his cows this spring.
“It was difficult to do,” he said. “I’m a purebred red angus breeder, so I had a lot invested in those animals, and they’re really expensive.”
Several years of below-average rainfall set the stage for this “exceptional” drought.
“Believe it or not, we’ve been moving toward this drought for the last three years,” said Gene Schmitz, a livestock expert who also spoke at the event. “We haven’t recharged our subsoils in four years.”
Extended periods of low precipitation can lead to chemical imbalances in soil, like excessive nitrates, that can damage crops and harm animals. “Don’t expect normal management to get you through an abnormal situation,” Schmitz said. “ You can keep doing what you’ve always been doing, but it’s going to come at a price.”
Schmitz recommended that farmers take care to reduce waste in the feeding process while still ensuring that animals receive the proper nutrients by testing feed for nutrients and nitrates while accurately weighing and delivering the appropriate amount of food to each animal each day.
The mid-Missouri drought drew national attention last week after U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue declared 25 counties (including Cooper County) as natural disaster areas. This designation makes area farmers eligible for emergency livestock assistance funds under the 2014 Farm Bill. As of Aug. 7, area livestock producers are eligible for reimbursements up to $62 per cow and $46 for each calf weighing more than 500 pounds. The deadline to apply for funding from the USDA is Nov. 15.