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By Mike Scott
“Farming and ranching is the backbone of any community in Northeast Missouri,” said John Wheeler, County Executive Director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Clark County. The agriculture industry in Clark County is by far the largest economic driver and the largest employer. A strong ag economy creates a strong local economy.”
The economic impact of local agriculture is enormous.
According to Wheeler, “Annually, on average in Clark County, we plant approximately 62,000 acres of corn and 68,000 acres of soybeans. Average yield for corn is 160 bushel/acre and average yield for soybeans is 45 bushel/acre resulting in approximately 10 million bushels of corn and 3 million bushels of soybeans produced per year in Clark County. At $3.50 per bushel for corn and $9.50 per bushel for soybeans this results in $60 million of gross revenue that results from corn and soybean production. Also, Clark County has approximately 10,000 head of beef cows grazing 30,000 acres of pasture adding an additional $10 million dollars to the local economy. These dollars go back into the local economy to support business, local infrastructure, and schools.”
The 2020 harvest season is getting started and the yield outlook for the area if good.
“Yield potential for Northeast Missouri looks promising, especially for corn. Corn and soybean planting conditions were good and there was ideal precipitation through corn pollination. This results in excellent yield potential for corn. Weather conditions turned dryer in August that had a negative effect on soybean yield potential. However, soybeans yields are expected to be average to slightly above average,” said Wheeler.
The higher than average yields may not benefit farmers as much as it could. International trade, the weather, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, have an impact on prices
“Commodity prices have turned lower compared to last year. Reduced prices are the result of continued disruption of trade with China and COVID-19. The pandemic has resulted in decreased demand for agricultural products domestically and worldwide. Locally, 2020 crop production looks to be above average so hopefully this production will offset lower commodity prices,” said Wheeler.
“The weather has affected prices some. Ideal planting and growing conditions throughout the Midwest brought USDA predictions of a bumper crop. However, dryer conditions in August coupled with the major storm (derecho) in Iowa that destroyed approximately 40% of Iowa’s crop brought slightly higher prices in August and going into harvest,” he added.
Beef and pork producers also felt the bite of pandemic.
Wheeler said, “As a result of COVID-19, there was a negative effect on prices for beef and pork. As workers in beef and hog processing facilities began to fall ill to COVID-19, this created a backlog of beef and pork in the supply chain. This resulted in livestock producers unable to move market ready beef and pork adding to production costs. The national economy also struggled because of COVID-19 and consumers had less money to spend on meat products and to eat at restaurants. Livestock prices began to fall and have not recovered to pre-COVID-19 levels.”
We asked Wheeler to explain the expense side of farming.
“According to the MU Extension corn planning budget, total cost to plant one acre of corn for 2020 is $567.05 per acre. This dollar amount includes land cost and all operating costs. If corn averages 165 bu/acre, the breakeven price for corn would be $3.44 per bushel. Current cash price for corn on the river is $3.41 per bushel. MU Extension soybean planting budget for 2020 shows total cost, land and operating costs, to plant one acre of soybeans is $411.87. If the average yield of soybeans is 50 bu/acre the breakeven price for soybeans would be $8.24 per bushel. Current cash price for soybeans on the river is $9.57 per bushel,” he answered.
To get by, many farmers have put off buying new equipment.
“At some point a piece of machinery becomes impractical financially to continue to repair and will need to be replaced. However, until the farm economy improves most producers will try to make do with used equipment and make necessary repairs to keep older equipment running properly. Hopefully soon, the farm economy will improve and produces will be able to upgrade equipment,” said Wheeler.
How does the future look for farmers in northeast Missouri?
“By 2050 there will 10 billion people to feed world-wide compared to 7 billion in 2020. The main issue to feed this many people is to do it in a way that is sustainable environmentally and economically viable for the people putting in the work of producing food. In year 2012 Clark County had 742 producers operating our farmland. In year 2019 the number of operators has decreased to 592 which results in a 20% decline in producers in 7 years. In order to feed a growing population, farming operations have adapted by improving production efficiencies through better technologies, more efficient equipment and increasing in size. This has resulted in less people being engaged in farming. I would anticipate the trend for less producers and bigger operations to continue for Clark County. However, I do see opportunities for young people who have a desire to be engaged in farming and ranching,” Wheeler replied.