Iowa Public Television


Historic Drought Hits Illinois Farmers and Ranchers Hard

posted on August 10, 2012

Jeff Beasley, Creal Springs, Illinois: “The first decision a livestock producer has to make is I’m going to have to source some feed if I want to maintain my cattle or I will have to liquidate my herd.”

John: “In April, the first hay cuttings were some of the best we’d ever made. It was a great start and now it’s wasted away to near nothing.”

Chuck Weilmuenster, Anna, Illinois: “We haven’t had significant rain since April and here it is the first of August. You can imagine when you don’t get rain like that, why it’s pretty tough.”

Bill & Judi Graff, Middletown, Illinois: “The ponds and the creeks are dry. There’s nothing in them. Years ago, I did not see these creeks go dry in 1988 and they are dry today.”

Kelly Robertson, Benton, Illinois: “We had a week over 110 degrees here, 120 heat index -- soil surface temperature 130 degrees to 150 degrees. We basically baked during June and July.”

Desperation has become commonplace in farm states where the historic drought continues to tighten its grip. In Illinois, areas decimated by extreme drought expanded to more than 81 percent in the last week. The southern third of Illinois, in particular, is suffering.

Bill Graff: “As you can see right here in the 2nd row, you’ve got a blank, blank, a blank, a little ear that’s not going to survive the corn head. Another blank, blank, blank and you just go on down the road. It’s all blank. Basically, when you look at this corn, what I mean is an ear that won’t survive the corn head. Yeah, we’ll yield something but unless you’re chopping it for silage, it’s not going to make it through the corn head. It’s going to go on down and just shell off.”

Dan Byers operates a forage harvesting and bagging business with his father Ron near Berwick, Illinois. He runs five crews to keep up with the high demand for silage.   

Dan Byers: “We are significantly earlier. I just started my first job on July 20th and never in my life have I started chopping silage that early. How much new work? It’s significant from a combination of guys who have always chopped silage, those wanting to do more and because of their feed supply of hay is down or worse. Or, b, they’re already feeding hay to cows because grass is short.”

According to USDA, roughly three-fifths of the nation’s rangeland and pastures are considered to be in poor to very poor shape.

Teresa Steckler, University of Illinois Extension: “There is nothing in the pastures. It’s down to the nubbings. We saw one pasture that the cattle had been off of for 6 to 8 weeks, but there was no re-growth. What’s particularly devastating is people have been feeding hay since June. They don’t have the tock, the hay to get them through November and December. They don’t know where to go.”

Teresa Steckler is a beef specialist for University of Illinois Extension. She says in addition to finding alternative feed sources, water supplies are a big concern.

Jeff Beasley, Creal Springs, Illinois: “Where we used ponds or creeks as water sources, some of those have dried up. We have a pond next to us that’s dried up nearly so we had to run some water lines, putting public water access to those cattle. We are having to do that at three separate locations on the farm.”

Judi Graff, Middletown, Illinois: “Mostly with the kids, it’s doubled their work load with the hauling of water. They have to haul three loads a day. We also have to check on cattle a lot more with the heat to make sure they aren’t stressed.”

According to Kansas City Fed economists, most of the burden of the drought has come through higher crop prices, which they say will persist as long as crop inventories are down.

John Nimmo, Jonesboro, Illinois: “The drought is so wide spread the food choices are feeding expensive feed stuffs. Hay is being transported and trucked in. There’s not enough hay for livestock here and around much of the Midwest. Options are pay high-priced feed costs. I bought feed this week, it was $295 a ton. Hay costs, round bales are now $105. Normally, they are $30 to $40. It’s a supply, demand function. The cattle sell off that’s occurring right now is a result of the high cost and lack of feed. It’s prohibitive to a lot of folks staying in the cattle business.”

Chuck Weilmuenster, Anna, Illinois: “Well, in the next three weeks, I’m going to have to decide what I want to do in order to stay in the business. I may have to cut my herd again. If I cut my herd down in half again, I can get to spring, but that’s going to severely hurt income potential later.”

Jeff Beasley, Creal Springs, Illinois: “Just 60 to 90 days ago, cattle prices were at all time highs. Now, they aren’t there. I’m afraid those individuals will get out and I hope they don’t because our cow heard is dwindling across the United States as it is. I have fears about that as the demand for beef grows around the world, I have concerns whether we’re going to have enough beef to meet that need.”

What promised to be a lucrative year for farmers and ranchers alike has turned into a harvest of discontent.

Kelly Robertson, Benton, Illinois: “The hope is we are going to set the next world record on corn yields. We started off with a good year and things went down hill. From my standpoint, a lot of farmers I know, if they’re taking the time in these last good years to bullet proof their balance sheets, if they have good working capitol and have bought their crop insurance. I say, this is a spectator sport. We’re just waiting for it to get over. We’ve lost the game, waiting for the whistle to blow and then we’ll start on next year.”

For Market to Market, I’m Laurel Bower Burgmaier.




Tags: agriculture cattle corn drought farmers hay Illinois livestock ranchers silage water shortage