BOWDLE, S.D. (KELO) — Standing in a wheat field a few weeks away from being harvested, Josh Mitzel is feeling optimistic about the fall harvest despite coming off the driest June recorded in state history.
Mitzel, a crop insurance agent in north-central South Dakota, has had a busy start to summer as the drought wreaked havoc on many farmers’ small grains.
“The wheat, as you get north and west of here, gets a lot drier,” Mitzel said. “Those guys, a lot of them, already bailed their wheat up because it was so dry that it wasn’t going to make grain.”
After timely rains around the Fourth of July, Mitzel said everyone is waiting and seeing how the corn and soybeans fare during the final stretch of summer.
“The hard thing is we’ve got good prices for crops and so everybody is very optimistic about that,” Mitzel said. “We’re looking at the forecast and it doesn’t look so good. The cattle guys are the big concern.”
“The cattle guys are the big concern.”
For some cattle producers who also farm, Mitzel said there’s an insurance policy based on how much moisture is received every two months. A very mild winter did not help get the early crops going.
“A lot of those guys got paid because of that,” said Mitzel, who was born and raised near Bowdle. “This winter, we had a big snowstorm in October and then that was it.”
This time of year, Mitzel said crop insurance agents are going through acreage reports on what everyone planted. What did they plant, where did they plant it and how many acres did they plant, he noted.
“That’s how the farmers protect everything,” Mitzel said. “In order to get loans, the majority of guys have to get crop insurance. It’s a federally subsidized program through the government, taxpayers are helping pay for that, so it makes it affordable for farmers to have insurance.”
Using the example of car insurance, where drivers have a deductible on the vehicle, Mitzel said farmers have a deductible on their crops based on their production.
“So they are guaranteed so many bushels and then there’s prices based upon what the crops are trading at,” said Mitzel, who got an engineering degree at South Dakota School of Mines. “That helps guarantee that they won’t totally go bankrupt.”
Federal crop insurance programs date back to the 1930s as ways to help recover from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. In 1980, Congress passed the Federal Crop Insurance Act, which expanded the crop insurance program to more crops and regions.
Mitzel’s best advice for farmers and producers is to contact local U.S. Senators about what they are dealing with.
He said it’s not hard to figure out who the drought is hurting the most.
“The cattle guys are where the real problem is because there’s nothing there to protect them,” Mitzel said. “If they want to keep their herd, they’re going to have a bunch of hay and that market is way over-priced right now cause there’s no hay out there. That’s who is really going to be suffering from this.”