Winter returned last week with a vengeance. We knew it could because it has done this in the past. Warm pleasant February weather made us feel like spring was here and we hoped it was. But we knew that winter has a habit of coming back and dealing a low blow.
Last week’s snow storm caused extra work and risk for all of us. Local farmers were no exception. Livestock farmers, especially those with dairy cattle, had to make sure their animals were protected from the colder weather. Driveways had to be cleared to get feed to the animals and allow the milk truck to get in to pick up the milk.
After the cows are milked, the milk goes to a bulk tank where it is kept cool and stored until the milk truck can get to the farm. Hoses that carry the milk from the tank to the truck are short. So the truck has to be able to back up close to the milk house where the bulk tank can be reached. That means the driveway to the milk house has to be cleared to allow the truck to get close.
Grain farmers might take advantage of the weather to work inside if they have a heated garage. There is usually some more maintenance they can do on equipment. So working inside makes good use of snowy days.
Last week’s weather might not make farmers happy. It delays spring field work that includes getting those seeds in the ground.
Recently Purdue University did a study of farmer attitudes. They have what they call an Ag Economy Barometer based on a survey of 400 producers and how they were feeling about the agricultural economy. The report didn’t say where the farms are that they surveyed or whether they are livestock or grain farms.
Their survey found there was a sharp drop in farmers’ attitudes toward the economy in February compared to January of this year. However they were feeling better than usual in January. Why they were more positive in January was not explained and reasons were not given for the drop in the way farmers were feeling in February.
Some possible reasons included the outlook for prices this fall didn’t look as good as they had been. Then there is a lot of concern about what may happen to agricultural trade. Without a good export market to Mexico, Canada and China there could be sharp drops in U.S. farm prices this fall. South America is harvesting a good crop of soybeans now and that has an impact on local prices.
Locally how are farmers feeling about the economy and prospects for grain and milk prices this fall? It is hard to find a lot of enthusiasm for good fall prices.
The survey did ask farmers if they expected corn or soybeans to be more profitable at harvest this fall. Two thirds of those surveyed said they expected soybeans to be more profitable. That suggests there may be more soybeans planted this spring than usual. We’ll have to see what local farmers decide to do in a few weeks. Given the present situation, some may decide to leave some land idle. But once they are geared up to get those seeds in the ground, they tend to plant all the acres they have.
John Parker is an independent writer for agricultural organizations.