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September 17, 2012

Farmers still getting the short end of the stick

Between droughts and governmental lack of concern over agriculture, farmers are still getting the short end of the stick.

Consider this: As of 2011 over 81% of the American population is urban (meaning they live in cities or towns). Less than 19% of Americans still live on farms or in rural regions. In Canada it is also 81%.

So from a political standpoint who are you going to show favouritism to more? City-Slickers or Farmers? The answer is obviously cities.

Farming is one of the most difficult, and yet most important, careers available, but it is horribly underpaid and there is very little government support for it. Many farmers now work second jobs just to make ends meet because farming by itself doesn't bring in the necessary money to raise a family.

Often just to try and get ahead in life farmers borrow large sums for machinery and equipment, which means they are either borrowing from the government or banks, and if there is a drought or bad weather for several years in a row its pretty much guaranteed the farmers will lose their farms and their homes because of inability to pay back loans.

Let us take for example one piece of machinery commonly used by cattle farmers: Livestock scales are used to weight cattle before or during auction. It is an approx. $1,000 investment to get scales, but the idea is so you can fatten up your cattle to the right size, then send to auction to fetch a good price. Its basically a necessity if you're a cattle or pig farmer.

Now you might think, oh, but how could a drought effect cattle or pig farmers? Well, two ways:

1. Cattle can die from something called "Heat Stress". It is basically heat exhaustion. For pigs they also get Heat Stroke (and sunburns). Preventing Heat Stress means providing shade, improved ventilation and a sufficient quantity of water... which adds up to extra costs and equipment.

2. More droughts = Less food to feed the cattle. If the farm in question grows their own food for the cattle and they aren't growing enough due to a drought, they have to buy extra food for the cattle from other farmers. If there is a huge shortage due to the drought the food has to be shipped even further and will cost a lot more. The prices can end up bankrupting the farmers.

Next lets look at the case of Utah... which as of September 2012 has had all 29 counties declared "drought disaster areas". River beds and groundwater ditches have all dried up.

It is all one big dusty mess.

Since October 2011, only 17.2 inches of rain has fallen on northern Sanpete County in Utah, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That is just over half of the previous year's rainfall of 32.5 inches (which was also a poor year for rainfall in Utah).

While many farmers throughout Utah have fallen back on water storage and reservoirs, the farmers in the Sanpete Valley have little to no water storage available. They simply don't have facilities available to store water and then use it for their crops and livestock. The natural springs and runoff from the mountains in Utah that usually supply the region's rivers fell short this year after last winter's meagre snows and early spring snow melt.

Some farmers have multiple basins which they used to use to store water, basically ponds where their livestock could drink. But the ground of those ponds are now cracked and chalky, completely dried up.

It hurts all the farmers too. Utah's wheat production has dropped to 30% of what a normal season would yield. Hay is also down 50%. Many families will be short 50% to 70% of their yearly income because of the drought.

Cattle in the region sell for considerably less since they weigh between 100 and 150 pounds less on the livestock scales than they would have if the family could wait a month to sell them. But they can't wait. They need money for food, to pay the bills, to keep the banks off their backs. They could be making more off the sale if they just had the extra time, but times are tough and when the bank freezes your credit cards you have to sell what you can at dirt cheap prices just to get the banks to unfreeze your credit cards.

The end result is that farmers need machinery like tractors, combines and even livestock scales in order to make a living. And they can't get those things without getting a loan. Every penny counts.

And with global warming and more drought on the horizon farmers aren't getting any help from government buck-passers who blame other levels of government and refuse to help farmers when they're in bed with the banks.

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