Flooding and gloomy price prospects for corn and soybeans are diminishing optimism in the Corn Belt as spring planting nears. Recent news articles continue to discuss the ongoing negative impacts of Midwestern floods on an already battered farm economy. Meanwhile, corn and soybean prices fell on Friday after the U.S. Department of Agriculture released data relating to prospective planting intentions and grain stocks.
Spring should be a time of promise, but the Mulder Dairy is clouded by doom. “Pretty depressing topic to talk about so I don't really bring it up a whole lot,” Kelsey Mulder said as he milked his father’s herd of 170 Holstein cows.Mulder is counting the days until the United States of America – the only country he's ever known - forces him to leave.Eighteen years ago, Kor Mulder and his former wife brought their two sons - ages two and three - from their native Holland to the open spaces of western Minnesota to start a dairy farm.Back home, land was scarce - while regulations were many. With an E-2 Visa in hand, Mulder saw in the U.S. freedom and opportunity.He hoped that if he paid his taxes and invested in his community, a nation built by immigrants would one day open its arms to his family and grant permanent status.“Boys go to school, I don’t live on welfare, then you would think you could eventually make it work to permanent residency. That’s logical thinking,” Kor Mulder said. But Mulder’s hopes have repeatedly been thwarted by rigid immigration rules. Now Kelsey - weeks from his 21st birthday – must, according to those same rules, return to Holland.In June he’ll go back to a language he doesn't speak and a country he barely knows.“I prefer the gravel roads of western Minnesota, that's for sure,” Kelsey Mulder said.And Kelsey will not be the first Mulder to go.Garion, Kelsey's older brother, was forced off the farm and back to Holland last year.With both his boys in Europe – and unable to run the dairy alone – Kor Mulder sees only one course: liquidating his farm and returning to Holland too.
At least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of U.S. farmland were flooded after the “bomb cyclone” storm left wide swaths of nine major grain producing states under water this month.
From Marin Bozic’s perspective, there are three ways to fix the dairy industry: Americans need to consume more cheese and milk, the county’s exports of milk need to grow, or, frankly, dairy farmers need to milk fewer cows.Bozic, an assistant professor of applied economics who studies dairy foods marketing and economics at the University of Minnesota, said dairies have been economically upside down for the past five years, and there are plenty of macro-level reasons why.For starters, he said, “In the United States, productivity per cow is growing faster than population size."Each year, dairy farmers are getting 1.5 percent to 2 percent more milk per cow, whereas the U.S. population is growing at just less than 1 percent annually.Until about 10 to 12 years ago, Bozic said, Minnesota was not an export superpower on the global dairy market. Bu that has changed, and dairies saw the benefit. But now, even with exports continuing to grow, though at a slower pace, it’s not enough to put the U.S. dairy farmer in the black.
As floodwaters recede in the first areas hit by flooding in the Midwest, residents are eager to start cleanup. For farmers, the damage comes when livestock is vulnerable and the ag market is soft. The damage to local infrastructure and agricultural operations is enormous. “It has hit our government infrastructure hard. Dams, roads, levees, bridges have been impacted. Property damage, livestock losses, it’s pretty staggering. The Spencer Dam collapsed. This is a 90-year-old dam, aging infrastructure like we see all over the state, that caved under duress from the storm.“For farmers, the most immediate damage is with livestock. It’s calving season for most farmers. We will learn more in the weeks ahead about the water quality issues that emerge, see the extent of the soil erosion, see how local roads held up to water damage,” Depew said.
The widespread, severe flooding in the Midwest over the last month has exposed the vulnerabilities in a levee system that is now so full of holes that many here ruefully describe it as “Swiss cheese.” With dozens of costly breaks across Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and nearby states, the surging waters have left large areas without even cursory flood protection.“Breaches everywhere: multiple, multiple breaches,” said Tom Bullock, the top elected official in Holt County, Mo., where crews were rushing last week to patch a leaking levee that, if it failed completely, would flood the small town of Fortescue.
Suicide rates are soaring among the last of the independent Wisconsin dairy farmers getting squeezed out by consolidation and a USDA program that isn’t helping. Net farm income has dropped in half in the Midwest over the decade. Iowa corn and soy farmers have lost money five years in a row. Loan delinquencies are at their highest levels since the Farm Debt Crisis of the mid-1980s.“Farmers and bankers are having difficult conversations,” said Aaron Heley Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, himself a crop and livestock farmer from central Iowa. “Because of the loss of farm income, we are losing equity as we speak. A lot of people don’t have enough equity left to get them through this.”Trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada tanked soybean markets for US farmers as Brazil emerged as a more reliable supplier. Rural people wonder when a third of the nation’s hogs are owned by a Chinese subsidiary, Smithfield Foods. And they wonder when JBS of Brazil, the biggest meatpacker, gets a disaster check from the USDA for Trump’s tariffs.Farmland prices in Iowa fell 3% this year. That’s a pretty big drain on the state’s balance sheet, and its effects are felt all over in fewer sales of pickup trucks and not much new iron moving off the farm implement dealer’s lot.
As part of her presidential platform, Elizabeth Warren is not just taking on big agriculture corporations like Bayer AG and Tyson Foods Inc. She’s also going after checkoff programs, which do marketing campaigns for commodities.Slogans like “Got Milk?”, “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner,” and “Pork: The Other White Meat” are what’s at stake. By law, growers pay a portion of their sales into checkoffs, which then promote the commodities. But that process is rigged against family farmers, the Democratic presidential candidate wrote in a Medium posting Wednesday that detailed her plans for U.S. agriculture.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Secretary Sonny Perdue are making available an additional $45 million to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and its partners to address the ongoing virulent Newcastle disease (vND) outbreak in southern California. This funding will allow APHIS and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to strengthen their joint efforts to stop the spread of this disease and prevent it from affecting additional commercial flocks. vND has been confirmed in more than 435 backyard flocks since May 2018. It was also confirmed in four commercial flocks in December 2018 and January 2019.
Flood damages in the Midwest are now estimated at nearly $3 billion. In Nebraska, the damages to agriculture are nearing the $1 billion mark. Iowa officials are reporting agricultural losses of approximately $214 million. Several other states have also experienced severe flooding, including Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin and South Dakota. Threats of additional flooding of the Missouri River are on the horizon, as above normal snowpack in the north melts and moves downstream.