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Drought could be blessing in disguise for cash crop farmers


It turns out the drought might not be 100 percent bad for some farmers in the north country — it could even have the opposite effect.

Experts say it could actually be blessing in disguise for some who will harvest cash crops to sell this fall because they’ll reap the benefits of high prices for commodity crops that continue to grow.

Corn crops have arguably suffered the most from the lack of rain, but other cash crops like soybeans should fare out well this season because of the rain in early August, said Julia C. Robbins, executive director of the New York Corn and Soybean Growers Association. Dairy farmers who grow a diverse mix of grain, soybeans, oats, wheat and other small grains will cash in on much higher prices when they sell it this fall, or by future contracts in 2013.

The national prices in the spring for grain and soybeans, respectively, were about $4 and $13 per bushel in the spring. Today grains are being sold at $8 to $9 and soybeans at about $16 per bushel.

“The more farmers have diversified their corps, the better off they’re going to be this year,” Ms. Robbins said. For farmers who grow cash crops, “the higher prices should help offset losses they have.”

Soybeans, for example, continue to grow in popularity both in northern New York and across the state. Statewide, the number of farms growing soybeans jumped from 240,000 last year to 320,000 acres this year, Mr. Robbins said.

“Soybeans are a big success story here,” she said. “The prices are high and the crop is doing well this year.”

That crop growth is a trend Jefferson County, too, said Michael E. Hunter, field crops educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County. An increasing number of dairy farmers here are now growing soybeans as a cash crop, and there are now roughly 40 growers and 10,000 acres’ worth of soybeans here.

Mr. Hunter likewise said farmers who will harvest cash crops to sell this fall should be in a good position, even though their yields will be down because of the drought through June and July.

“It’s best for farmers who are selling cash crops and grain to spread out the risk,” he said.

Farmers selling only grain, for example, likely won’t do as well cas last year because of high-yield losses but other crops are faring much better. Even so, surprisingly high grain prices should help farmers offset some of their losses.

Consider a farmer who was projected to receive $4 a bushel for 150 acres of corn in the spring but will now only harvest 120 in the fall because of the drought. Today’s prices of roughly $8 a bushel will help offset those losses.

Most dairy farmers, though, are using any excess grain they planned to sell to produce enough corn silage to feed their cattle herds. Some farmers who expect deficits will be compelled to purchase grain and hay on the market to feed their herds.

“The ones that are buying will be in trouble, but farmers who are producing to sell will be in a good situation if they get any kind of yields” this fall, said Arthur F. Baderman, agricultural outreach coordinator for Jefferson County’s extension office.

Some 20 farmers in Jefferson County run cash crop operations without any dairy cattle. One of them is Jeffrey M. Rudd, who owns a farm based in Rodman with 220 acres of corn to be harvested for grain and 180 acres of soybeans. After buying the former dairy farm from brother Calvin B. Dodge last year, Mr. Rudd said the enterprise had a promising start that he hopes to build on this season.

For his soybean crop, he will sell 100 tons — about half of the total crop — under a contract made this spring for $13.50 a bushel. The other half, which he still hopes to harvest most of depending on the weather, will be sold at the current market rate of about $16 a bushel and exported to China.

“The crop now has the potential of doing a lot better than last year,” he said. “If the prices stay high, we’ll sell the soybeans immediately in the fall.”

Mr. Rudd, who co-owns Rudd’s Town and Country Store with wife Karen A. at 19748 Route 232, started an export operation for soybean growers at the business two years ago. The railroad that runs behind the store is used to fill rail cars with soybeans in the fall, which are eventually destined for China. Last year, the beans were transported by rail to Newark, N.J., before being shipped on barges bound for China.

About 20 growers from Jefferson County will participate in the program this fall.

“We doubled the (rail) cars last year from 15 to 30,” he said of the program’s success.

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