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Why the drought affects me -- and you

By Chris Chinn, Special to CNN
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon July 23, 2012
Corn plants struggle to survive in a drought-stricken farm field near Oakton, Indiana.
Corn plants struggle to survive in a drought-stricken farm field near Oakton, Indiana.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chris Chinn's farm has been badly affected by the drought
  • She says the bill to feed her livestock is increasing fast because of crop losses
  • Chinn: The drought means taking on more debt and possibly selling off livestock
  • The drought will change lives on farms and will raise food prices for all, she says

Editor's note: Chris Chinn is a family farmer in Missouri. She adapted this essay from her blog.

(CNN) -- The drought of 2012 will be one that farmers and ranchers remember for years to come. My husband, Kevin, and I are fifth-generation farmers. This is the first drought we have experienced since we were married and started farming together in 1995.

Our farm, like most other U.S. farms, is really suffering right now and in desperate need of rain. The media have pegged it right: it definitely is the worst drought of our generation.

Kevin and I own and raise hogs, cattle, corn, soybeans and alfalfa hay on our farm. Typically, we don't have a lot of crops to farm, but this year we decided to rent an extra 200 acres for that purpose, doubling our row-crop acreage. We were able to purchase crop insurance for most of our crops, but unfortunately that alone will not help make our farm or equipment payments to the bank since most of our crops are ruined.

Chris Chinn
Chris Chinn

Our crop failure isn't what keeps me awake at night these days; it's worrying about our animals. No crops means no feed for livestock. We can't stop feeding cattle and hogs. We own 60 head of cattle, and our family has 1,500 sows on our farm. Bountiful crops are needed for an adequate feed supply, but so too are healthy pastures for cattle grazing. Both need rain.

Hogs eat mostly corn and soybeans because they are not ruminant animals, which means they do not have four stomach chambers like cattle, which can digest hay and grass. The price to purchase corn and soybeans is skyrocketing because of crop losses across most of the United States.

Unlike crop farmers, livestock farmers and ranchers do not have insurance programs to ease the losses during disaster years. When our feed costs get out of control, or when a disease devastates our herd, there is no relief from insurance. This is a total loss for farmers and ranchers. To pay the bills, we have to go to the bank and borrow more money to help us survive the storm. This means yet another loan payment.

Drought forces farmers to sell cattle
Farmers warn of drought's impact
Hog farmers struggling to feed livestock

When my expenses increase on our farm, it would be nice to tell the packer who buys my hogs that I need to be paid more so I can make ends meet. But it doesn't work that way.

Hogs feel drought's pinch

We are price takers; supply and demand drive the price we are paid for hogs. Even though my feed bills are increasing at alarming rates, right now it doesn't mean that pork demand has increased in line with my expenses. Farmers have to wait for an increase in demand, or decrease in supply, to see their prices increase.

I have been asked before why I just don't hold on to our hogs and wait for someone to pay me what I need to pay my feed bills. This is because packers only accept a certain weight so they can meet consumer demand.

Consumers want a consistent size piece of pork -- not too big or too small --and they want their chops to look the same each time they go to the store. To meet this demand, farmers can't sell hogs that are overweight or underweight.

The pain of this drought doesn't stop with farmers and ranchers.

Everyone has a vested interest in how Mother Nature is behaving. Food availability will be affected because farmers will be producing less food. In the end, this will lead to increased food prices. A number of livestock farmers and ranchers will be faced with difficult decisions. Some will be forced to leave the farm or ranch and find new jobs in neighboring towns, while others may have to sell their family farm or ranch.

The bottom line is: If you eat, this drought will affect you.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chris Chinn.

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