farming

According to new quarterly crop data from the USDA, farmers planted about 92 million acres of corn this spring, a 5 million acre decrease over the agency's March acreage report. The decrease could slash this season’s corn harvest by around a billion bushels, providing some much-needed price increases for commodity farmers. 

SHERI GLAZIER

Sheri Glazier is used to seeing dry conditions on the family farm in central Oklahoma around wheat harvesting time in June. But this year, the heat came faster than normal. She remembers the unusually early heat one day while driving the combine in the wheat field.

“I was extremely worried about heat strokes that day, and I don't ever remember truly being that early in June, being that extremely concerned about ‘where's the water, where's the Gatorade, where's the fire extinguishers?’ All in one day, that early in wheat harvest,” Glazier says.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

KOSU, the public radio station licensed to Oklahoma State University, welcomes a new reporter to cover agriculture and rural issues. At a time when local journalism is reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, KOSU is expanding its newsroom to be of better service to the Oklahoma community.

SPENCER PUGH / UNSPLASH

Studies have found the rates of mental illness and suicide are higher for farmers. The profession requires long hours, limited social contact and is often at the mercy of external factors such as weather and market rates. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has farmers facing unprecedented challenges, and this has some worried about a mental health crisis in this community.

SUSAN O'SHAUGHNESSY / U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, AGRICULTURE RESEARCH SERVICE

Both farmers and home gardeners may have trouble finding enough seeds to plant this spring, but while both are facing seed shortages, the causes are unrelated. 

More people are taking up gardening as orders to slow the spread of coronavirus are keeping them homebound. Companies that sell vegetable and other seeds to gardeners are reporting record demand. Meanwhile, farmers are facing a supply shortage of soybean and sorghum seeds. 

Low supply of some seeds

As Americans scattered to the privacy of their homes this week to avoid spreading the coronavirus, the opposite scene was playing out in the Mexican city of Monterrey.

A thousand or more young men arrived in the city, as they do most weeks of the year, filling up the cheap hotels, standing in long lines at the U.S. Consulate to pick up special H-2A visas for temporary agricultural workers, then gathering in a big park to board buses bound for farms in the United States.

In love, timing is everything, the saying goes. The same is true for fruit and nut orchards in California's Central Valley, which depend on a synchronized springtime bloom for pollination. But as winters warm with climate change, that seasonal cycle is being thrown off.

Cold is a crucial ingredient for California's walnuts, cherries, peaches, pears and pistachios, which ultimately head to store shelves around the country. The state grows around 99% of the country's walnut and pistachio crop.

In 2019, the federal government delivered an extraordinary financial aid package to America's farmers. Farm subsidies jumped to their highest level in 14 years, most of them paid out without any action by Congress.

The money flowed to farmers like Robert Henry. When I visited in early July, many of his fields near New Madrid, Mo., had been flooded for months, preventing him from working in them. The soybeans that he did manage to grow had fallen in value; China wasn't buying them, in retaliation for the Trump administration's tariffs.

It's been a challenging year for American farmers.

Farmers in the U.S. witnessed a trade war with China unfold, farm debt continues to pile on and delays in planting due to extreme weather linked to climate change.

And as farmers get older — their average age is 58 years old — what does the next generation of farmers look like? Will they face the same barriers?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid out a record $4.24 billion in claims for acres farmers couldn’t plant this year.

The “prevented planting” provision allows farmers to file a crop insurance claim when weather conditions leave fields unfit for a crop. Heavy spring rains and flooding left some Midwest farm ground too wet for seeds and equipment during the planting window, meaning farmers couldn’t put in the corn or soybeans they’d intended for those acres. 

Pages