Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 15, 2013

Bumper crops

So far, it's been a very good year for Kentucky farmers

The Independent

ASHLAND — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting record-high corn and soybean production in Kentucky this year. For that, farmers can mostly thank Mother Nature. Crops across Kentucky have benefited from plenty of rain and mild temperatures throughout this growing season.

The USDA said Tuesday that corn production in Kentucky is forecast at 231 million bushels, up 122 percent from last year’s drought-stressed crop. Yield is estimated at 154 bushels per acre this year, which would be the second-highest yield on record and up 86 bushels per acre — or more than double —  from last year’s output.

USDA predicts soybean production in the state at 70 million bushels, up 19 percent from last year. Yield is projected at 44 bushels an acre, which would tie for the second-highest yield on record in the state.

The substantial increase in production from a year ago is clear evidence of the impact of the weather on farm income. In 2012, a lack of rainfall had the USDA rate most corn and soybean fields as poor. This year those same fields are mostly rated to as good to excellent across the state.

One downside to the expected bumper crop for grain farmers is that grain prices have been dropping. Corn prices have fallen below $5 per bushel amid expectations of a massive crop, said Will Snell, University of Kentucky agricultural economist.

“The big question is whether the crop will be large enough to cause prices to fall near $4,” he said.

But he predicted that high yields and lower prices will still result in significant corn crop revenues for Kentucky. And lower grain prices will help the bottom line for other farmers. The lower corn prices will result in lower feed costs for beef, pork, dairy and poultry producers in the state, Snell said.

Meanwhile, burley tobacco — once the state’s top cash crop — is forecast at 148 million pounds, down 2 percent from a year ago. Yield is projected at 1,900 pounds per acre, down 150 pounds from last year’s crop. Revenue from tobacco has been declining steadily during the last two decades as a result in the decline in the number of Americans who smoke and an improvement in the quality of tobacco grown in other countries. Nevertheless, tobacco continues to be a major cash crop in Kentucky, and it likely will remain so. However, the family tobacco farm has been  replaced blay large farms growing increasing amount of burley.

We recognize that not much corn and even less soybeans are grown in this part of the state. Kentucky’s agriculture belt is in the central and western parts of the state, and farmers in this part of the state are most part-time who plant a few crops and raise a little livestock while working fulltime in another career.

Nevertheless, agriculture is much more important in Kentucky than most area residents realize, and when Mother Nature cooperates and crops are good, the entire state benefits by the increased income that produces for farmers and the additional taxes it generates for state and local governments. Disaster could still strike, but so far it has been a very good summer for Kentucky farmers. May it continue.