During a fact-finding mission in the heart of Ohio farmland, Bob Latta got a taste of just how badly some corn and soybean crops have suffered this season.
After surveying this past week the damage wrought by heavy rains in fields across Fulton, Henry, Paulding, Putnam, and Van Wert counties, the Fifth District congressman pronounced much of the corn crop “a horrible loss.” He added, “It could be a very tough year.”
Latta made his comments during and after a roundtable discussion Monday at Archbold Equipment, located on State Route 66. Along with the company’s CEO Zach Hetterick, Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels, company employees and shareholders, and community members, Latta talked about the poor quality of the state’s crops this year and the possible ramifications.
“I really need to to know what’s going on out here so I can better represent them in Washington,” Latta said of area farmers.
Heavy rains this summer–in some instances, downpours of five inches or more that left crops submerged–essentially choked the progress of much of the state’s corn and soybean plants. The result has been stunted growth, a susceptibility to disease, and general predictions of average to poor yields this fall.
Latta said in the hardest-hit counties it’s feared corn yields will decrease from an average 190 bushels per acre to 90 to 100 bushels per acre. Results won’t be clear until farmers harvest this fall.
“It’s awful. The farmers are going to have a very, very tough year because of all the rain that we’ve had,” the congressman said. “It’s really affected what their crops are going to do this year, and in some cases farmers couldn’t even get their crops out.”
The news is disconcerting, given that agriculture is the number one industry in Ohio, he said.
“When the farmers aren’t having a good year it affects everyone along the chain. We want to make sure we feed ourselves, because the last thing you ever want to have happen is to lose that independence where, all of a sudden, we’re relying on somebody else in the world,” Latta said.
And because only about 20 percent of this year’s federal farm bill represents farmers’ needs, “It’s important for folks to have gotten insurance this year,” he said.
Putnam, Paulding, and Defiance counties, as well as others located in western Ohio, have already been designated a secondary disaster due to their contiguity with Indiana. The counties most negatively affected by rain won’t be known until the state’s Agricultural Statistics Service completes analysis of a recent assessment.
Unfortunately, current corn and soybean prices are lower than preferred, Daniels said. “In a lot of areas we’re going to have a short crop, so that’s going to be kind of a double whammy for a lot of folks,” he said.
It’s not a total loss, however. While this region of the state and areas further south were hit particularly hard by wet weather, other parts were not extremely hampered. And in cases within the same county, some farmers experienced torrential rainfalls while others escaped them.
The quirky weather conditions made for both flourishing and devastated fields. Among crops heavily soaked by rain, some proved resilient and made surprising recoveries.
“There’s still going to be a crop. Some are as good as they would ever be. Hopefully, everybody’s going to have a better year than we thought,” Daniels said.
He said federal aid will come to affected farmers once disaster declarations are assessed. And he doesn’t foresee a significant jump in food prices due to poor yields. “There will probably be a stable food market,” he said.
The exception will be eggs. The cost has already been affected by avian flu outbreaks in other Midwestern states.
Daniels said Latta’s survey of the district’s crops is appreciated by the region’s farmers.
“It means a lot. Our producers…need to know that the people in Columbus and Washington, D.C., know and understand how important a part of the economy that they are,” he said. “If those jobs and those food processing opportunities weren’t here, if the production wasn’t here, just stop and think what the economy in this area would look like.”
He added that farming and agriculture provide everything necessary to survive, “whether it’s the wood in your house, the cotton shirt on your back or whether it’s the food on your table that you’ve got three times a day.”
Hetterick said he was heartened to see state representatives show concern for the area.
“They’re trying to keep their feet on the ground, and trying to understand what’s going on with the agriculture in northwest Ohio. As a business owner, it makes me a little more comfortable knowing they have an awareness of what’s going on in the industry,” he said.
Hetterick said he was encouraged when Latta and Daniels spoke about potential disaster relief.
“They’re looking at their options to see if there’s a safety net for producers,” he said.
Daniels said even after their poor showing in parts of the state corn and soybeans crops could have a satisfactory outcome.
“We’re always concerned, but we’re always hopeful,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.