As Blaine County’s grain harvest approaches its midpoint, local farmers are still facing uncertainty about the extent of losses due to this month’s heavy rains.
Blaine County farmers grow primarily barley and alfalfa hay. Most local barley farmers have contracts to sell their crops at a set price to MillerCoors, near Twin Falls, or Anheuser-Busch, near Idaho Falls. However, the brewers reserve the right to reject barley that has begun to sprout due to wet weather. Farmers must then sell their crop as feed, at about half the price of malting barley.
Picabo farmer Pat Purdy, who serves on the Idaho Barley Commission, said the brewing companies are requiring farmers to separate their loads into bins, then bring in a sample from each bin for testing.
“We haven’t had a bin outright rejected, but I’m guessing that we’ll have somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of our crop rejected,” he said. “If you have half your crop at half its value, that’s a significant loss.”
Bellevue Triangle farmer Pepin Corso-Harris said her barley crop has been refused by Anheuser-Busch.
“It’s all going for feed barley,” she said, “half the amount we could have sold it for had it been malt barley. Sure doesn’t cover the seed, fertilizer, getting it in the ground, keeping the weeds back, water delivery assessments, power bills, harvesting and hauling.
“We had some rain almost every single day for two weeks. We’ve been here for over 35 years and we’ve never seen anything like this.”
“We’ve been here for over 35 years and we’ve never seen anything like this.”
John Saili, who farms in Quigley Canyon, said that so far, his barley samples have been accepted by MillerCoors. He said the relatively shale-heavy soil there may drain better than soils farther south in the county, reducing the rain damage to the crops.
Rain is especially destructive to hay that’s been cut and baled, leaching out the nutrients and promoting mold growth. Purdy said his family has cut about a quarter of their hay crop, and estimated the loss in value from $250 per ton to about $160 per ton.
Crop insurance is available to farmers, but Purdy said few local farmers buy it since they can usually count on such a reliable crop.
Ron Abbott, Idaho farm programs chief with the federal Farm Service Agency, said no loss compensation programs, as have been provided under previous farm bills, are currently available to farmers.
The agency does provide federal loans for both regular operating costs and losses due to emergencies. Those can help farmers get their next year’s crop in. However, at about 3 percent, the emergency loan rate is a percentage point higher than the regular operating loans. FSA Farm Loan specialist Dan Mattson said the emergency loans are useful only to farmers who have already borrowed the $300,000 maximum available through regular operating loans.
Ironically, a drought emergency was declared for Blaine County by the Idaho Department of Water Resources this spring. For local farmers to become eligible for emergency loans for crop losses due to excessive rain, an emergency would have to be declared by the U.S. secretary of agriculture upon request by the county commissioners. To obtain emergency loans, farmers would have to show a 30 percent crop loss and be unable to obtain credit from a bank.
County Commissioner Angenie McCleary said the commissioners will probably address the matter next week.