Carper visits cornfield to witness effect from drought
By CAROL KINSLEY
GEORGETOWN, Del. — “Farming is a gambler’s business,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. “You never know if it’s going to rain too much or too little, if it’s going to be too hot or too cold.”
The federal government cannot make it rain, which is what many farmers across the United States need — or needed days or weeks ago — and cannot moderate temperatures, but there are steps being taken to help farmers.
Carper visited a corn field farmed by Mark Davis in Georgetown, Del., on July 30 with officials from USDA to see for themselves the effect of the drought on irrigated and dryland corn and discuss federal programs that are available to help.
Davis had mowed a wide swath along the outer edge of where his irrigation reaches, emphasizing the difference in the non-irrigated corn.
On one side, corn was “as high as an elephant’s eye,” Carper noted. Carper himself is tall, and the irrigated corn was above his head. On the other side, the crop was only waist high.
Davis’ crop has been hit with a “double whammy,” Carper said. “Not only has there been not enough rain, but the temperatures have been too high and messed up the pollination.”
Carper added that even if rains do come, it’s too late for the corn crop, but it might help soybeans.
Davis pulled an ear from the non-irrigated side and drew back the husk. There were fewer than a dozen kernels on the cob. “There’s not enough corn to harvest,” he said.
Irrigation is meant to be supplemental, but Davis said he has had to depend on it to make his crop on 700 irrigated acres.
He has 1,700 acres of dryland corn and 1,000 acres of soybeans.
The non-irrigated crop is “done for,” said Michael Scuse, USDA undersecretary for farm and foreign services and former Delaware secretary of agriculture.
“This crop is a total loss,” he said. “The problem farmers have right now is the price and lack of grain. If you don’t have corn to sell, it doesn’t matter what the price is. When you look at production costs of $600 to $700 an acre, that’s real money. That’s a real loss. And when you’re looking at increased production costs next year, that’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt all our producers.”
He explained that the Midwest has been hit so hard with drought that seed supplies will be tight next year.
Livestock producers on Delmarva will have to go a lot farther to get corn and soybeans, Scuse said, which will drive up the cost of feed. Impact to consumers, he predicted, will be “negligible.”
There may be a short-term sell off of beef and pork, but long-term he expects an increase in food prices of only 2 to 3.5 percent.
Prices have already gone up due to increased fuel costs.
As of July 25, more than 1,300 counties across 31 states, including most of the Southwest in addition to Florida, South Carolina and most of Georgia and Alabama have secured a drought designation from the USDA.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows two-thirds of the continental United States is in a moderate to exceptional drought.
The Mid-Atlantic region, except for Delaware, is faring better.
An emergency declaration for Kent and Sussex counties will enable “folks in dire straits” to apply for emergency loans, Carper said, noting that also applies to farmers in contiguous counties. “The loan rate has been taken down from about 3.5 percent to 2.25 percent. The Secretary of Agriculture is doing what he can, with Michael’s advice, to help out.”
Scuse said the disaster declaration process has been accellerated.
What used to take 89 days now will require about 25 days. “Emergency loans will help keep farmers in business and see them through next year,” he continued. Farmers with Conservation Reserve Program lands will be allowed haying and grazing “to supplement what little bit of hay they have been able to get this year.”
Farmers in designated disaster areas also will be given more time to make payments on Farm Service Agency debts under a “Disaster Set-Aside Program,” said Bob Walls, Delaware FSA executive director.
Carper said government is moving away from paying farmers not to raise a crop. The money saved will be used to incentivize farmers to insure their crops, he added.
The Senate has passed a farm bill which includes increasing crop insurance coverage from 75 percent to 85 percent. In a statement for The Delmarva Farmer after the farm visit on July 30, Carper said he “voted in support of the five-year, bipartisan farm bill that contains several provisions that could ease the devastating impact of the drought on farmers and growers and ensure that they have the resources they need in these challenging economic times.
“Now it’s time for the House of Representatives to take action on this critical legislation.”
In the meantime, Carper said, “he is discussing all other options with his colleagues to provide our farmers and growers with the relief they need.”
Carper said he planned to meet on Aug. 1 with senior USDA staff in Washington to discuss “whether there are other places around the world where we could go and find corn might be more plentiful at a better price — and what it would cost to transport that corn.”