Paul Malchow

Somewhere between divine intervention and rotten luck, a weather phenomenon called a derecho tore across Iowa into Illinois on Aug. 10. Unlike hurricanes, which are accompanied by personalized first names like Fred and Alice, this storm was anonymous; but the destruction gave no quarter to the tropical events.

On the national news broadcasts, the derecho was anonymous as well. When hurricane Isaias threatened to dump a few inches of rain on New York City earlier this month, it was the lead story for the networks with reporters on the scene up and down the coast. Strangely, it took the networks a few days to discover the Midwest; move beyond the downed trees footage buried in their broadcasts; and actually discover the magnitude of the corn belt’s loss.

And the magnitude of the loss is still being calculated — and probably will be for some time. Reports from various local agencies were varied and confusing. Some said the corn could recover somewhat and possibly be harvested. Some said the corn was lost but the soybeans were fine. Today I read a report from the Iowa Department of Agriculture saying the soybean crop was devastated. One report claims 6 million crop acres are lost, another … 2.3 million.

One aspect of the damage which is pretty undisputable is the grain bins crumpled like beer cans at a fraternity mixer. A reporter cavalierly stated this really isn’t a problem since there won’t be any grain harvested this fall anyway — so who needs storage?

It seems up to this point, the grain marketing sector has also stayed relatively mum on the storm’s impact. Taking millions of bushels off the 2020 books would certainly impact the market. Both corn and soybean prices have seen a recovery of sorts, but how much lower could they go? (A dangerous question, I know.)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also been mighty quiet — no fervent call of support; or even “our thoughts are with you.” To my knowledge, Sonny Perdue has yet to pay a visit to the area. President Trump is scheduled to fly into Mankato, Minn. today. Maybe he’ll cruise over Cedar Rapids at 20,000 feet and take a look.

Looking for a bright spot, let’s say corn and soybean yields are slashed and prices go up. This is good if you have a corn or soybean crop to sell, but bad if you’re a livestock producer and your feed costs go through the roof. Forget what I said about bright spots.

A crazy year just got crazier. Please … don’t anybody ask “what’s next?”

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Let’s just set aside the NBC News report that 10 percent of American farmers received 60 percent of the CFAP funding. I have another bone to pick with the USDA. Last week I received a press release from them announcing a new annual survey of farmers, ranchers and private forestland owners.

To quote the release, “The survey will help USDA understand what it is doing well and where improvements are needed, specifically at the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Risk Management Agency (RMA).”

Sounds like a good idea, right? Even Ag Undersecretary Bill Northey said. “Good data is critical to good decision-making. The more responses we receive, the better we can understand what we need to do to improve our services to America’s farmers, ranchers and private forestland owners.”

So if the USDA is so interested in a huge response, why send out surveys to “a selection of 28,000 producers?” (quoting the release). Granted, family farms are disappearing at an alarming rate, but I think we’re still a ways above the 28,000 mark.

But wait … it gets better. Again, quoting the press release, “The survey will be open for at least six weeks and will be closed once USDA receives a 30% response rate.”

Suddenly the 28,000 figure has shrunk to 8,400. Good decision making indeed.

If you would like to be one of the 8,400, the USDA claims “all farmers are encouraged to take the survey at farmers.gov/survey.”

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For me, taking shots at the USDA is like eating potato chips. Once I start, it’s hard to stop. But it’s not just me … the National Farmers Union weighed in on this item recently:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced this week that the reimbursement rates for the organic certification cost share program (OCCSP) would be reduced. The program helps organic farms and handling facilities cover the cost of obtaining or maintaining certification under the National Organic Program (NOP), which can often be prohibitive for small or new operations.

According to Federal Register notice, the agency is reducing the reimbursement from its previous level of 75 percent of eligible expenses and up to $750 per scope down to 50 percent and up to $500 per scope through fiscal year (FY) 2023. FSA indicated that they made the change because ‘the amount of funding available will not cover expected participation levels in FY 2020,’ but did not specify why.

The program's earlier funding levels were set by the 2018 Farm Bill, which also directed USDA to use the program's carryover balance from previous years to fund the program through FY 2023.

National Farmers Union (NFU) is concerned by the implications of the lower reimbursement rates for smaller organic farms, many of which are already coping with financial hardships due to the pandemic. Several other organizations, including the National Organic Coalition (NOC) and the Organic Farmers Association have expressed similar concerns.”

I guess when you’re doling out billions of dollars in CFAP money to farming’s top 10 percent, you’ve got to cut corners wherever you can.

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To prove I’m not a complete grouch, I’ll end this Land Minds with a notice I received from the Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“Gravity Storm, a craft brewery in downtown Austin, (Minn.) has teamed with Mower Soil and Water Conservation District and the Cedar River Watershed Partnership … to reward Mower County farmers who are certified through the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program.

A 64-ounce growler of one of Gravity Storm’s craft beers will be provided for each new certification of a Mower County farmer through MAWQCP.”

A county official I knew from my reporter days was fond of saying, “Whiskey was made for drinking, water was made for fighting.” He would be pleased to know Mower SWCD and Gravity Storm are working to bring the two closer together.

Paul Malchow is the managing editor of The Land. He may be reached at editor@TheLandOnline.com.