Many ag producers were lucky this year. Lucky in the fact that Hurricane Isaac had more bark than bite, commodity prices were up and yields for most crops were above average. And farmers and ranchers will take luck over anything else any day of the week.
It’s the nature of farming to bet on luck, at least some of the time. Since farmers have no control over so many factors that impact their profession most send up a prayer before planting and at least one more at the beginning of harvest. There’s probably a lot of praying in between as well.
Crop year 2012 will be remembered as a year of good yields and good prices. The same can’t be said for other parts of the country. Drought in the Midwest hindered production there, driving up prices that Louisiana farmers were able to take advantage of. We never like to see any fellow producers put in a bind, but that too is the nature of farming.
Last year cattle producers in Northwest Louisiana experienced hay shortages due to drought. This year, with abundant rainfall, those same producers donated hay to dairy and beef cattle producers in neighboring Arkansas. That kind of generously is also the nature of farming.
“We were lucky in the fact that Hurricane Isaac didn’t do more damage,” said Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation. “Farmers still have very vivid memories of the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, (in 2005) as well as the damage from Hurricane Gustav (in 2008). These will likely be the storms by which all future hurricanes will be judged. Hopefully, we’ve gotten our last storm for at least three to four years.”
According to the LSU AgCenter, Hurricane Isaac caused more than $135 million in crop, livestock and infrastructure losses. However, compared to the $2 billion in ag losses caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and $1.5 billion caused by Hurricane Gustav, Isaac’s damage pales in comparison.
Overall, all Louisiana crops saw increased yields and prices in 2012. Corn prices hovered in the $9 range earlier in the year. Today, corn is trading near $7.50 per bushel. Cotton was trading at 72-cents per pound last week, while soybeans reached highs of $14 at the beginning of the crop year. Farmers booking beans on the Chicago Board of Trade as of last week were receiving $14.34 per bushel.
Anderson said the lack of a new farm bill was another factor that hit farmers hard in 2012.
“All these better prices might have been part of the reason we didn’t see a farm bill this year,” Anderson said. “That, and the fact that many lawmakers didn’t want to slip up and sign on to a farm bill that some constituents might not have agreed with. In an election year things like a farm bill get passed over in favor of safer legislation that won’t affect the outcome on reelection campaigns.”
The current farm bill expired in September. Congress must either pass a new bill, or authorize an extension. Otherwise the nation’s farmers and ranchers would have to revert to the 1949 act. While USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said he was confident Congress could enact a new farm bill before the end of the year, many are not very optimistic about a new national farm law coming to fruition in 2012.
“It’s essential a new farm bill be passed before year’s end,” Anderson said. “Having such a law in place removes a lot of uncertainty in the minds of farmers as they look ahead to the 2013 planting season.”