Exhibitors at the Douglas County Fair expect hot weather, but the recent stretch of 100-degree-plus days is putting an extra strain on families who make their living from the land.
Keeping animals cool at the fairgrounds may be the focus this week, but taking care of animals at home on the farm also poses a special challenge. Attendance at the fair also may be affected by the number of area farmers who are cutting corn in an attempt to salvage the heat-ravaged crop.
It’s a reminder of the gamble farmers take every year on forces they can’t control: heat, rain, shifting markets, etc. Many local residents and businesses feel a significant impact from a heat wave like the one we’re in, but few are as affected as farmers. Retail sales may dip because many customers are staying home, and the average homeowner will have to pay hundreds of dollars more for air conditioning, but for farmers the losses can be devastating.
Crop prices are strong, but that doesn’t matter much if farmers have little to sell. Douglas County Extension director Bill Wood estimated the county’s corn acres would produce no more than half their normal yields because of the heat. That means farmers will only have half as much grain to sell to raise the money to pay off the loans they took out to put their crop in the ground. Those costs have been driven up by rising petroleum prices that affect not only fuel to run farm machinery but also the cost of fertilizers.
Severe heat also threatens livestock, and cattle deaths reportedly are up across the state. It doesn’t take many dead cattle to make a rancher’s bottom line drop into red ink.
Anyone tending a flower or vegetable garden this summer has a certain appreciation for the challenges being faced by other growers, from large-scale farmers to the people who sell their produce at local farmers’ markets. No amount of watering can completely offset the impact of sustained 100-degree heat. For home gardeners, that may mean fewer tomatoes than usual; for farmers it means a substantial blow to their income.
Many people are struggling in the current stagnant economy, but most of us don’t have to depend on the weather to make a living. When fall arrives, the heat of this summer will become a memory for most of us, but for farmers, this fall will be a time to calculate their losses and prepare to gamble again on next year’s crop.