The Van Trump Report

Latest Farm Bureau Survey Shows Drought Keeping a Grip on Farmers and Ranchers in the West

Many farmers and ranchers in the western half of the US continue to battle drought conditions, according to the fourth American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) drought survey. Importantly, AFBF says the geographic footprint of extreme drought has shifted between 2021 and 2022, with states in the Pacific Northwest like Washington and Idaho having relatively better conditions, while states like Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas have faced widespread drought in the highest, D4 – exceptional, drought category.

Farm Bureau notes that its survey was conducted before the many recent precipitation events. However, a glance at the most recent drought monitor reveals that any improvements that may have occurred through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas have been only marginal at best. Arkansas and to a lesser degree Nebraska do register noticeable improvements, though the latter is still completely under some level of drought. AFBF also cautions that while some of the data appear to reveal regionally improving conditions, it will likely be many years before farm and ranch families across the West recover.

The survey, which closed with over 550 responses from 16 states in the drought-stricken region, reflects some of the improved conditions. AFBF says 67% of respondents rated a reduction in harvest yields due to drought as prevalent or higher in their area, slightly lower than both summer 2022 results (74%) and fall 2021 results (72%). Plans to switch crops due to drought declined to 29% from 42% this past summer. Notably, those who reported tilling under crops because of drought conditions dropped back to fall 2021 levels (24%) after jumping to 37% of respondents in the summer 2022 survey.

Similarly, the 24% of respondents who reported removing orchard trees and other multiyear crops as prevalent or higher is down from 33% in the summer 2022 survey. Not surprisingly, removal rates are higher in states with more fruit and nut crop production such as California and Oregon, where 41% and 33%, respectively, reported that factor as prevalent or higher.  

Across the surveyed region, respondents expected average crop yields to be down -44% in 2022 because of drought conditions (up from 38% from the summer 2022 results), with the biggest drop expected in Texas (yields reported down 66%), followed by Kansas (down 63%) and Nevada (down 60%). Washington farmers are expecting the lowest yield decline in the surveyed region (down 6%).

As Farm Bureau highlights, diminished crop yields have implications that reach beyond the plants themselves. Apiaries, for instance, rely on the nectar and pollen from flowering plants to produce honey.  With reduced water and reduced plant production comes reduced pollination activity and a smaller honey crop. Apiarists then become forced to feed hives through other means or face losing their bees. In California, one farmer wrote that their feeding costs were up to +$100,000 and more in 2022. Additionally, acreage experiencing continued dryness has reduced soil health, which threatens long-term productivity.    

The impact of ongoing drought conditions on livestock farmers has also been intense. Nearly 90% of respondents reported an increase in local feed costs as prevalent or higher in their area, which was down only one point from summer 2022 results. Slightly less than two-thirds of respondents reported prevalence of selling off portions of their herd or flock. The largest herd decline remains in Texas (herds reported down 46%), followed by Nevada (down 45%) and Arkansas (down 35%). Idaho expected to have the smallest average herd size decline (down 12%).

In the latest survey, 62% of respondents reported reducing herd sizes in early 2022, and a much lower 17% reported they were further reducing their herd or flock. A much larger portion were maintaining the reduced herd size (28%) and a slightly higher percentage were starting to build back their herd size (17%). The difference in respondents reporting further herd reduction is likely linked to most liquidation already having occurred by this period of data collection. Back in summer of 2022, 67% of respondents reported reducing herd sizes in 2021, and nearly 50% were further reducing their herd or flock during 2022.

Additionally, of those 62% who reduced their herd sizes, 67% fallowed the rangeland that was no longer in use (down from 76%), 31% leased the land to another rancher (up from 22%) and only 3% sold the land (up slightly from 2%). Farm Bureau also notes that more respondents reported leasing rangeland could signal improving pasture conditions in some regions, good enough to rent out to other ranchers.

Farmers in the surveyed region also continue to struggle with reduced surface water deliveries. These factors were highest in Nevada (reported down -63%), New Mexico (down -60%) and Texas and California (down -55%). Over 60% of respondents continue to report increased use of groundwater resources. Notably, that share was 100% in Nevada and New Mexico. Additionally, 41% of producers reported new well drilling in their area, with California the highest at 65%. Check out the full survey results HERE.

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