The coming spring always brings new hope and optimism, but with the planting season fast approaching, farmers face many challenges.
A continuing drought is still affecting parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, and the war in Ukraine has sent fertilizer and fuel prices skyrocketing and rattled some of the grain futures markets.
On March 5, the price of wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade hit an all-time high of $13.50 a bushel. It has since returned to the $10.50 range, but there are clear concerns about the impact of the situation in Ukraine on wheat production following a lower-than-expected global 2021 harvest.
At first glance, the prospect of rising grain prices seems like good news for farmers, but it’s bad news for consumers who have already seen inflationary increases in food prices. And it’s going to cost a lot more to plant crops this spring, thanks to expensive fertilizers and diesel fuel.
The price of potash doubled compared to last year and that of anhydrous increased by more than 150%. Prices were already rising due to the rising cost of natural gas, the main source of nitrogen fertilizer.
The United States produces most of its own ammonia and phosphate and depends on Canada for 90% of its potash. But countries like Brazil import 85% of their fertilizer, with Russia being a major supplier.
All of this uncertainty is concerning enough that the US Department of Agriculture is opening an investigation into the fertilizer, seed and retail markets.
“Concentrated market structures and potentially anti-competitive practices leave American farmers, businesses, and consumers facing higher costs, less choice and less control over where to buy and sell, and reduced innovation. – which ultimately makes it harder for those who grow our food to survive,” said US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
The challenge with the weather seems tame by comparison. At least there’s some good news on that front. The National Weather Service said rainfall in the first week of March, ranging from half an inch to nearly 2.5 inches, helped ease abnormally dry conditions in parts of southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and west-central Wisconsin.
But there is no change in conditions from moderate to severe drought in parts of central Wisconsin and moderate drought in parts of northeastern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin. Since April 1, 2021, this region has experienced precipitation deficits of 9 to 15 inches.
Winter drought is not as noticeable as a summer drought, but drier soil allows frost to penetrate deeper, which can impact crops like alfalfa. And moisture will be needed at the start of the growing season.
The challenges may be a little tougher this year, but an unpredictable farming future is pretty normal for our fellow farmers. As I have often said, there is nothing predictable and easy about farming.
I heard from many readers about my recent column on Decorah’s Peak and the history of the Ho-Chunk Decorah family.
One of them was Gary Tilleros of Burlington, who said his family is from the Decorah area of Iowa. This is where the Big Canoe Lutheran Church is located on Big Canoe Road. The church was named after One-Eyed Decorah, which was also called Big Canoe.
According to the history page of the church, it was named after the whole area where it is located because the area was named after the Indian chief. “In any event, the name ‘Big Canoe’ is a tribute to those people who enjoyed this land even before the arrival of Norwegian immigrants,” the church’s history reads.
Thanks for adding to the story Gary. I always appreciate hearing from readers.
Chris Hardie has spent over 30 years as a journalist, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a past president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected]