Patches of snow remain from a difficult winter, but spring finally seems to be approaching. This year, though, the season of optimism on the farm is tempered by lingering problems and an uncertain future.
Missouri Farm Bureau President Charlie Kruse says the two most troubled sectors of agriculture are dairy and pork.
“Our dairy farmers, not just in Missouri but across the country, have really experienced some very difficult times,” Kruse tells the Missourinet. “We’re very concerned about losing a lot of dairies around Missouri if things don’t turn around.”
Pork producers find themselves in a similar position says Kruse. The cost of producing a gallon of milk or a pound of pork exceeds the price of the product right now and has for some time.
The biggest worries seem to center on dairy.
“I hope certainly, I think everybody does, that milk prices turn around and these dairy farmers in Missouri are going to able to hold on,” Kruse says. “I think it is important for a lot of reasons that we have a dairy industry in the state of Missouri.”
According to United States Department of Agriculture statistics a dairy herd of 159,000 head in 1999 dropped to 107,000 in 2009. The Missouri Dairy Association estimates the state has lost about half its dairy farms in the past 15 years.
Losses in dairy and pork have the attention of State Agriculture Director Jon Hagler who says wild fluctuations in prices have created an environment in which the cost of production exceeds the price of the product.
“When those swings get really wild and people cannot plan for the future, then what you do is you lose that production capacity,” Hagler says in an interview with the Missourinet. “When that farm goes out of business pretty soon you get enough of those going out of business then your processing capability goes out of business and then you’re not going to get your farms back.”
Beef is Missouri’s leading agricultural sector, a reliable leader in the state agricultural community. Yet, it has lost ground of late. Official federal and state statistics estimate Missouri has lost more than 100,000 head of beef cattle. The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, using a more complex formula, estimates the loss closer to 300,000 cows, the breeding stock that once made Missouri second in cow-calf production, behind Texas. The state now is third, behind Texas and Oklahoma.
Hagler says losses in other agricultural sectors have taken a toll on beef. He says cheaper poultry and pork prices have encouraged consumers, who also are struggling during the recession, to skip beef for cheaper cuts of meat.
The recession that refuses to recede from America has the entire globe in its grip, which dramatically affects agriculture, dampening the demand for exports, the lifeblood of a strong American agricultural economy.
Kruse sees a bleak landscape in farming right now, but worries about the two sectors in particular.
“We’ve got concerns across-the-board in agriculture,” Kruse says, “but I think if you look at the two sectors that have (caused) the most concern for the last six, eight months, year it would be dairy number one and hogs number two.”
A special Missouri House committee conducted a thorough study of the farm economy. We focus on that report in part two tomorrow.