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Local farms and ranches could see benefit from drought

With much of the country being adversely affected by drought or flooding, Central Oregon is producing many crops in high demand

by: RAMONA MCCALLISTER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crops in Central Oregon, especially wheat, hay, and grass should be a strong market for local farmers.

As droughts and flooding afflict more than half the country, the trickle-down effect on ranchers, farmers, and consumers at the local level are not what may be expected.
   In the ranching and farming community, the concept of supply and demand holds steady, especially in times of extreme weather. When one part of the country is having severe crop damage, another time zone is pulling up the slack to feed the masses.
   Since Central Oregon crops are irrigated, farmers and ranchers can control the water and fertilizer, which makes it easier to predict their yield.
   “Anybody who has a crop to sell is going to be in good shape this year,” said Area Agronomist Extension Agent for Crook County Extension Service Mylen Bohle of Central Oregon farmers. “They will be doing OK.”
   Wade Flegel, a local farmer, said that the drought across the country has affected corn and wheat prices. For local farmers who are raising either of these crops, this is good news.
   “Wheat prices have gone up considerably,” said Flegel. “That is good for those raising wheat.”
   He commented that the price of fuel has fluctuated, but reduced fuel prices during some portions of the summer were helpful.
   Hay and grass prices have also been high this summer, which is also good for agriculture in Central Oregon. According to Bohle, the demand for these crops is high, and prices follow the demand.
   Bohle said his brother, nephew, and brother-in-law who live in southeast Montana, are suffering through the drought — and will be seeking out hay soon from areas not hit so hard.
   “We have hay here, so all through the Midwest and any of the drought states where they are going to be very short on hay — they are obviously going to be looking for it as close as they can find it,” said Bohle. “It is a ripple effect outwards, like when you drop a pebble in a stream or a pool and it ripples out. There is going to be hay moving in all directions from here.”
   He said that some of it is already moving into Midwest states such as Texas.
   “If you are the sellers, it is creating a strong market right now.”
   He said that the market for hay in Central Oregon goes in multiple directions, such as California, north into Washington to the dairymen there, to the valley, and to the coast to the dairymen there. The grass hay also moves in several directions.
   Central Oregon has not escaped the effects of drought completely, however.
   Tim Deboodt, Crook County Extension Agent Staff Chair, said that there are some local drought conditions taking place on the east end of the county and on the Grasslands due to a lack of snowpack, causing water shortages for stock water.
   “We have grass, but we don’t have water,” said Deboodt. “We have some producers who are moving cows every day just to get them to water.”
   He said that some have come off of summer pastures and are headed for meadows because they don’t have any more stock water.
   From a larger perspective, Deboodt said that prices are still pretty good, with feeder cattle selling for $1.40 to $1.55 per pound, as of Friday, Aug. 28.
   “They still don’t know what the Midwest corn harvest will look like,” he added, “so corn prices are climbing, which affects fed cattle, which ultimately pushes the price down a little bit this fall probably.”
   He noted that through the Midwest into Montana and North Dakota, there are reports of herd dispersals, so a lot of cattle are on the market.
   “We sort of thought this year was going to be a year of building herds, and folks retaining heifers to grow the herds — and we don’t see that occurring,” remarked Deboodt. “It’s still a tight market, and the prices are steady, but everybody is sort of not doing much at the moment. They are just waiting to see what another month or two is going to bring.”
   Bohle said that as far as crops, it has been a “fair” growing year for Crook County. There were a lot of frosts early and late in the spring, which affect the alfalfa, grass hays, and pasture.
   “It also affected the wheat a little bit,” said Bohle. “Wheat prices are $8.5 to $10.5 a bushel now, which is really good for the farmers here.
   “Overall, it is going to be a very strong market for corn, soybeans, hay, and wheat. Wheat is riding the coattails of corn, basically, as it went up — all the grains are going to follow it and go up as well.”
   Although local farmers and ranchers may benefit from demand for their crops, the inflation for groceries will catch up to Central Oregon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expecting a 3 to 4 percent jump in groceries next year, as a result of the drought still gripping much of the rest of the country.
   For the consumer, fruits and vegetables aren’t expected to rise much more than usual next year, but dairy products are forecast to climb 3.5 to 4.5 percent, and poultry and eggs are projected to rise 3 to 4 percent. Beef prices are expected to jump as high as 4 to 5 percent, according to the USDA.
   “As sad at it is, that really is what drives agriculture in certain areas all the time,” said Bohle of incidents such as the drought. “Someone’s woes elsewhere helps someone else. They don’t have a crop, so there is less product. The price goes up, and this person over here is growing the crop, so they get a better price.”