The near-term outlook for central Illinois farmers isn’t bright. That’s according to Peoria County Farm Bureau manager Patrick Kirchhofer.
He said farmers are facing a constellation of challenges including low grain prices, international trade uncertainty and the coronavirus. He said stress in one sector, like the current meat processing bottleneck, can quickly create a negative domino effect.
“If the processing plants are slowing down or shutting down, there’s no place for the livestock to go. And, then that affects…the grain side of it too - the grain demand. If you’re not raising as many animals, you don’t have the demand for corn and soybeans like you normally would have,” said Kirchhofer.
President Trump Tuesday used the Defense Production Act to keep meatpacking plants open, although some are closed or working at reduced capacity as employees fall ill from COVID-19. As a result, some producers are resorting to culling herds due to lack of processing capacity. The Illinois Department of Agriculture is pointing those who feel depopulation is their only option to guidelines issued by the American Veterinary Medical Association for proper disposal.
Kirchhofer said he’s heard the stories of farmers across the U.S. euthanizing animals because of meat processing plant delays or closures, but he’s not aware of any producers farmers culling pigs or cattle in Peoria County.
Despite the challenges, Kirchhofer Wednesday said Peoria County farmers are making good progress this planting season, adding some corn was planted as early as April 7.
“On average in Peoria County we’ve probably had around 40% of the corn planted and I would estimate around 20% to 25% of the beans planted,” he said.
Kirchhofer said more acreage is planted in Peoria County’s northern region, primarily because of richer soil. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates statewide 37% of planned corn fields and 18% of soybeans were planted as of April 26.
Kirchhofer said this year’s progress is an improvement over 2019, when rain and flooding kept some farmers from the fields during prime planting weeks.
“It’s definitely different than what we experienced last year. Last year it was wet practically the entire month of May and not much acreage got planted at all. And, a majority of the crop went in the first two weeks in June last year, which is really unprecedented.”
Kirchhofer said farmers are currently receiving less for their crops than in 2019. He added corn producers face added stress as ethanol plants have shut down or reduced capacity due to lower demand for fuel during Illinois’ shelter in place period. Despite the market uncertainties, Kirchhoff remains optimistic.
“There’s always challenges in farming. Every year is different. Every week is different. Every day is different on the farm, and farmers are resilient. And, they’ll continue to do the best job that they can in producing food for all of us consumers and, you know, we just need to support them as much as we can.”
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