Avoyelles Parish soybean farmers hurt by weather, politics
Some say when a farmer is asked what he does for a living, he should say he’s a “professional gambler.”
Farming is a gamble when everything is as it should be. When the weather is contrary and geopolitics gets added to the mix, the gambler doesn’t stand much of a chance against “the house.”
This year, soybean farmers seemed to be the ones -- as U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham said -- “taking it on the chin.”
“There are thousands of acres of beans in Avoyelles Parish that were not harvested this year,” County Agent Justin Dufour said. “Some were left in the field because the fields never improved enough for the equipment to move in. Some farmers had no place to store their beans even if they harvested them.”
25 percent ‘destroyed’
The Farm Service Agency estimated about 88,500 acres of soybeans were planted in Avoyelles Parish. Of that, 22,000 acres were deemed “destroyed” -- almost 25 percent of the total.
Dufour said that number includes acres unable to be harvested due to market-related conditions as well as weather -related conditions.
Many soybean farmers had a lean harvest even if they were fortunate enough to get the beans out of the field and to a storage facility or buyer.
“Many of our soybean farmers ended up trucking their beans to Greenwood, Miss.,” Dufour said. “There is what can best be called a ‘salvage plant’ that crushes the beans and extracts the oil.”
Dufour said that situation “sheds a light on the condition here in Avoyelles.”
With the cost to haul the beans, Dufour said farmers were making about $4 per bushel profit on their beans.
He said grain elevators in neighboring Pointe Coupee Parish are usually able to handle the parish’s storage needs. This year, the elevators were limiting new orders to those farmers who had already contracted for storage before the season.
The elevators were also being more choosy about the quality of the beans they accepted for storage.
Dufour said the season started with great optimism, but ran into weather problems.
Dry weather forced some farmers to delay planting, so the beans were going to be late -- but that is not necessarily bad.
“About two weeks into the harvest, things took a turn for the worse,” Dufour said. “There were sporadic rains that kept the equipment out of the fields.”
Add to the normal, almost-to-be-expected weather issues, a trade war with China -- a major market for American soybeans -- and an aggravating situation became a disaster for many farmers in this area, state and nation.
“There were some good-looking fields during the growing season,” Dufour said, noting that many were predicting very good yields for this season.
“The issue is not what they looked like while they were growing, but when they were harvested. We’ve seen the same thing with our cotton crops in recent years,” he continued. “Rains at the wrong time can significantly effect the quality of the crop being harvested.”
FRONT LINE COMMENTS
Comments from farmers on the front line of the “Soy Wars” this year tell a tale of hope, anxiety and dismay.
Kyle Lemoine said he was able to harvest all but about 75 of his 1,500 acres of beans in the Moreauville-Bordelonville area.
“I was better off than many,” he said. “I know some who lost 800 to 1,000 acres of beans.”
One of those was Robbie Roszell of Effie, who planted about 4,000 acres in Effie, Brouillette and Spring Bayou this year.
“We were hit very badly,” Roszell said. “In the summer we couldn’t get a rain and that worried us. At harvest, this China thing hit and we were unable to sell a lot of our crop. The elevators got so strict and wouldn’t buy our grain, so we had to leave a lot of it in the field.”
In Roszell’s case, he left over 1,000 acres unharvested.
Lemoine said that not only did the China-U.S. tariff war effect the ability to sell harvested beans, “when we were ready to harvest, we got too much rainfall and couldn’t finish.”
That resulted in some farmers who would have wanted to harvest beans from being able to get their equipment into the fields.
Beans harvested after sitting in water-logged fields for a week or two sustained damage and were rejected by local elevators, Lemoine said.
Lemoine ended up sending much of his crop to Express Grain in Greenwood, Miss.
“The freight costs are high,” he said. “I don’t blame the truckers. It is a six-hour drive one-way -- 12-hour round trip, plus their time on-site unloading. It’s expensive.”
Lemoine said he earned around $4 a bushel for some loads “and less than that on others, after the deduction for damage and the freight cost.”
Roszell said he was aware of the Greenwood option, but elected not to truck his beans to the crushing plant.
ABOUT FEDERAL AID
Roszell and Lemoine both said they were hoping to get some relief through a federal assistance program to offset the impact of the tariffs.
“That would help to some extent, but only for those beans that were harvested,” Roszell said. “The beans that went unharvested we will get zero for.”
He said he has talked with U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham about Abraham’s bill to help farmers who were unable to harvest their beans this season.
Lemoine said the federal aid “was a good concept until the weather happened and farmers were unable to harvest the beans in the fields.”
Although parish farmers took a hit this year, they apparently fared better than those in other parts of the state.
“I heard a report on the radio that 30 percent of the soybeans in the state were unharvested and another 20 percent were unmarketable,” Lemoine said. “That’s half the bean crop.”
Farmers were looking forward to a high-yield harvest this year, Lemoine said.
“The bad thing is, many of the fields that had to go unharvested were high-yield fields,” Lemoine said. “The problem is, you have to have a place to take them.”
Lemoine said the economic hit the farmers took will be immediately and directly felt on the parish’s overall economy.
“Every dollar lost in this harvest is a dollar taken out of the local economy,” he noted.
Lemoine said this kind of year “is really bad on farmers carrying more debt. Those with less debt can get by.”
He said he will be “okay,” despite a trying and disappointing season.
Roszell wouldn’t discuss this year’s impact in detail, but did say, “I didn’t break even.”