MAYFIELD, Ky. (AP) — Justin Ralph estimates he has made about 200 trips to deliver grain from the fields he grows with his brother and uncle this year. They used their four trucks to transport the crop from a total of about 800 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat to market.
What they are not accustomed to is the distances they have traveled over the past two years, as a result of bad weather conditions that are expected to increase in their region as a result of… Climate change. They used to utilize a grain elevator in Mayfield, Kentucky, a massive facility that purchased and stored millions of bushels of grain from farmers. But it was destroyed in Hurricane outbreak 2021 Which led to the killing of dozens of people and the leveling of entire parts of the city to the ground, and the company that was managing it was closed. Now, instead of driving ten minutes, they sometimes travel an hour or more.
“The fluctuations in weather conditions that we have…that’s scary,” he said, especially for those with smaller farms. “If you have a larger farm operation, your acreage is spread out over a larger area, so your risk is likely to be minimized because it’s more spread out.”
Farmers and experts echo Ralph’s sentiment and say larger farms have more ways to manage risk, but smaller and medium-sized farmers suffer when extreme weather hits. Human-caused climate change is expected to amplify the number and intensity of these extreme events Sudden droughts to Increased rainfall. As the planet warms, scientists say the country will see the same More tornadoes and hail-generating storms and those deadly events will strike more frequently in the densely populated Mid-South states A big problem for everyone living in those areas and especially for those trying to hold on to small family farms.
This is already a reality for the area around Mayfield, which is located on a flat coastal plain in the western part of the state and has been exposed to extreme weather in more ways than one. In addition to the hurricane outbreak in 2021, this summer they experienced flooding exceeding 10 inches in some areas, submerging crops.
Keith Lowery, another farmer near Mayfield, woke up one morning this summer to eight inches of rain, and by dinnertime, when the deluge finally stopped, he knew he had a problem.
Lowry found fields of half-submerged corn and soybeans almost completely hidden under the floods, rapids cascading down their streams like a waterfall. Now, at harvest time, it is estimated that they have lost between 5 and 10 percent of their crop this year. On top of that, they had to deal with debris that washed into their fields, a nuisance that got in the way of heavy machinery.
Lowry has a relatively large operation — 3,000 acres, mostly corn and soybeans, plus another 2,000 acres from his son’s farms. Although he has suffered some losses, he says he and other farmers are used to dealing with uncooperative weather. “That’s the nature of the beast,” he said.
But without a grain elevator or on-farm storage and with limited transportation options, Lowery explained that his neighbors would have had to get soybeans into their fields. For that reason, a cloudy day last November found him helping out on a much smaller plot of land, bringing in a crop of about 250 acres.
Following historic rainfall and flooding this summer, farmers in western Kentucky experienced field damage and crop losses. This was after the 2021 hurricane outbreak that killed dozens and destroyed grain stores. (Nov. 19) (AP Video: Joshua A. Bickle)
While farmers and townspeople depend on each other to be resilient, the ripple effect of these natural disasters has had lasting effects on a community where agriculture is the heart of commerce.
“Because we have a large county that is densely populated with grain farmers, the loss of (the grain elevator) forced them to move to surrounding counties, often 40 or 50 miles away, to move their grain,” said Miranda Rudolph, grain management director. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Agent for Graves County. She said fuel prices have risen, adding to the pressure.
Larger farms tend to have a wider range of options to offset their risks, including crop insurance, which often costs less per acre when applied to larger areas, said Hans Schmitz, an agricultural expert with Bordeaux Extension Agency.
For example, Jed Clark, who grows about 3,000 acres of grain near Mayfield, said he relies on crop insurance and also tries to spread his crop rotations strategically, betting that crops in lowland areas will do well in a dry year. Crops on higher ground will outlast those washed away by floods.
On small farms, if farmers have to put everything in a low-lying, flooded area, the entire crop could be affected, Schmitz said. So farmers with less land sometimes look to specialty crops like watermelon or tomatoes to try to increase profits with the space they have, but these crops are not easily insured.
Schmitz said he believes climate change is contributing to the consolidation of farmland, meaning an increase in the size of large farms. It is relatively easy to start a very small farm, but difficult to stay afloat. He said: “What matters to me is the cavity in the middle.”
The small farm’s viability also has to do with infrastructure, said Adam Coe, another Kentucky farmer who owns a family-run farm with 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat (plus two hog barns and 100 sheep) between Mayfield. And Murray. It is believed that the farmers who were most affected after the hurricane were those who did not have a grain store on their land.
Coe said he has noticed changes in the weather over the years, but he believes the corporate mentality has more to do with why large farms always get bigger. “The people have changed more than the weather,” he added. “Morality has changed in the last 20 years… I call it serial killer.”
However, the effects of weather cannot be denied. Schmitz, who also farms about 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat in Indiana, says he has seen increased summer moisture promote diseases of wheat, barley and oats in the Midwest. He has seen that higher nighttime temperatures lead to more heat stress on most crops. He said that while some farmers resort to irrigation to cope with sudden and severe droughts, he has seen the same irrigation pivots end up in stagnant water after sudden and severe floods.
“It goes back to the Midwestern adage, ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.’ “We’ve certainly always had the ability to make very large changes in the weather over a short period of time,” he said. “But seeing climate change lead “The potential for these extreme events to worsen in both directions over a short period of time is worrying.”
Associated Press journalist Joshua Bickle contributed to this report.
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