Weather and Crops

Posted in Farming on Thursday, June 06, 2013

Weather and Crops

For the past week, it has been 60 degrees and raining, or about to rain, or just finished raining - awesome weather for crops in this area. The winter wheat was in definite need of more moisture, and the spring crops were beginning to show signs of stress. Yes, this week has seen one of those “million-dollar June rains,” as they used to say back in the 1960’s. Now, it is no doubt a multi-million dollar rain.

But next week could bring the end of any chance at a decent pea crop if the forecast for the next three days comes true. I think my peas are about ready to bloom and if they are trying to bloom next Monday when it is expected to be 100 degrees, the poor little flowers will wilt and pollination will be poor. No pollination, no peas at harvest time, just empty pods.

Sudden, hot weather won’t be good for any of my crops, but peas are especially delicate, and there is absolutely nothing I can do but watch it happen and know that the odds of breaking even on this year’s pea crop are withering away.

Yeah, I do have crop insurance, but I have never met anyone who would trade a good looking, healthy crop for an insurance check. Like it or not, that may be what happens to me next week.

On the subject of crop insurance, it is worth noting that revenue protection for crops like peas, lentils, chickpeas, and canola is relatively new. So new, that no insurance company or even USDA ag statistics has a 10-year-old actuarial table that might tell them what it costs to cover the potential losses on individual acres. Even for winter wheat, for which effective crop insurance has been around about a decade, farmers have only been surrendering their closely guarded yield information for a few years.

You may have heard something about the “big corporate farms” getting the lion’s share of insurance premium subsidies. It works like this: if you own seven insured cars and your seven car garage in Oklahoma is destroyed in a tornado, you get a bigger insurance check than you neighbor with a two car garage. Remember that crop insurance is paid on individual damaged acres, regardless of who owns them. Done any other way, too many acres don’t get insured and the risk pool becomes too small to work. That would put us back into the quagmire of ad hoc disaster relief that has wasted so much Congressional time and energy over the last 50 years. Making crop insurance so expensive for big acreage farmers that they don’t buy it, makes it much worse for me.

I can’t speak for Kansas, Iowa, or North Dakota, but in the Palouse, we only see a real disastrous crop year about once in 10 years. In another 10 years or so, there should be enough publicly available actuarial data on Palouse wheat production that private companies can confidently begin to write insurance without Federal government subsidy and backing. Getting the government out of the crop insurance business, or at least reducing their role is a good thing in my opinion, but bailing out too soon will see the old, inefficient, and wasteful ways return, and no one wants to go through that again.