Cultivators began to roll across the grain fields at mid-morning after the sun dried the dew. Unfortunately, the drought robbed the county of another good harvest. The season will be significantly shorter this year.
By the end of the day, Roxanne Wiginton, Co-op manger, reported the first yields at 1,500 to 4,000 pounds per acre. In a good year, the average is 3,000 to 6,000.
The sporadic or nonexistent rainfall has taken its toll. Factor in the slumped economy, and local farmers are no longer fighting to break even. They’re struggling to survive.
“We’re an agriculture community,” Wiginton said. “Half the population is in farming. This affects most of us in some way or another. Last summer we hired six high school kids, this year we have two.”
With the harvest cut short, work hours will also be sliced back.
“We have always lived for the harvest,” Wiginton said. “We earned one-third of our income from the harvest because of the overtime.”
During the crop tour life-long farmer Kenneth Steindorf said this is the worst year he’s ever experienced. On Monday afternoon as his son Alfred Franke ran a combine across a grain field, Walt Franke lamented the serious loss of production. His son Alfred, a third generation farmer, has been running a combine since he was 16.
“This field will produce about half of what it did last year, if that,” Franke said, watching Alfred transfer the golden beads of maize in the top of the combine to a hopper for transport to the grain elevator, their second of the day. The temperature hovered at the 100 degree mark.
Last year, maize sold for $11.19 per 100 pounds. This year, the price is $4.91. Less money for a smaller crop equates to disaster for many locally owned family farms.
In the last few years, farmers have struggled to break even as they watched fuel prices, seeds, and fertilizer soar. To make ends meet, dipping into savings put back from the days when farming was more lucrative has kept some farms going.
With oil and gas revenues down and farmers and ranchers struggling, County Judge Rene Mascorro said he will do everything possible to trim the county’s budget.
“The most honorable job anyone can do is provide food and clothing,” Mascorro said. “Farmers face so many variables that impact whether they can make a crop–weather, drought, too little or too much rain. It really brings it home to see people you care about struggling. One of the things I think about is keeping our expenses down and try not to ask any more of the taxpayers than we have to; it’s a tough situation.”