Conditions Were Good For Those Raising Beef, But More Challenging For Crop-Producers
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Plentiful pastures and higher profits made 2013 a great year for beef producers, according to local officials.
During a year that may very well have broken records with its plentiful rainfall, Greene County's beef industry flourished more than the crops.
"Beef prices have been extremely good the whole year," Jake Haun said in an interview Tuesday.
Haun, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency Office in Greene County, said that local producers received excellent prices for their beef, due in part to the significant droughts in 2012 that crippled other areas of the country where beef production is a major industry.
Locally, however, 2012 was not a drought year, with the annual rainfall just above the 30-year average at the University of Tennessee (UT) AgResearch and Education Center at Greeneville.
In addition, 2013's plentiful rain made for lush fields for feed, he said.
"Probably, there's never been a better pasture year than there was [in 2013]," Haun said.
Better pastures also benefited dairymen.
Dairy profits, while not as strong as those for beef, were "somewhat better" in 2013, he added, despite a slight decline in milk prices.
And both dairy and beef producers have something to look forward to in 2014.
"It looks like [the price of] feed is going down a fairly steep decline because of the real big crops other places," he said. "Corn is cheaper; soybeans are cheaper."
Milton Orr, University of Tennessee Extension director for Greene County, also said 2013 was a good year for beef producers, with prices good enough that he said he anticipates seeing facilities improvements and expansions in the the coming year.
"It's a little bit of extra income," he said.
Orr did note the continuing challenge of much higher fuel costs, compared to 10 years ago, along with a widespread health problem in 2013 -- pink eye among cattle.
"We've had lots of pink eye [in 2013]," Orr said in an interview on Tuesday. "Everybody had an opportunity to treat pink eye, whether they wanted to or not."
Orr and Haun agreed that, moving forward, the greatest challenge for beef and dairy producers alike will be food through the winter.
HAY PLENTIFUL BUT POOR
Although there was plenty of pasture, the excess rainfall left a lot of farmers unable to get fields mowed and hay baled on time.
In early August, Haun was reporting that at least one-third of the first cutting was not yet complete, which was "unheard of," he said.
On Tuesday, he said that trend carried throughout the rest of the year.
"Starting at Baileyton all the way through McDonald, a lot of them didn't get but one cut," he said.
Those that did manage a second cutting were late in doing so, and the hay was either too mature to be of good quality or got wet, Haun added.
Orr also noted these troubles, but said that most people should be fairly close to having the amount of hay they need, except for those farming along creek bottoms where it flooded.
"It's not all about how many bales or how many tons or how many months they could graze it," Orr said. "It's also about the quality."
Many producers, he said, will have to decide how to supplement their cattle's diet.
"Supplemental energy will probably be our greatest concern getting through the winter," he said.
It was also a plentiful year for weeds, thanks to the rain, and that fact will present a few more challenges in the coming year, Orr added.
As for the crops, just as in real estate, it's all about location, Orr and Haun said.
Those who are farming low-lying creek beds had low yields as a result of flooding and delays. Those farming in highlands had average-to-above-average yields.
In early August, the continual rain had Haun, Orr and other officials making some grim projections of the harvest, expecting losses at 40 percent or higher on tobacco, 70 percent on squash and 40 percent on soybeans.
While it truly wasn't a good year for tobacco -- a crop that generally prefers drier conditions -- it's a little early yet to determine the extent of the loss for soybeans, Orr said.
The greatest fear is that some farmers were delayed from getting soybeans in the ground. That, in turn, may have caused soybeans to be damaged in the first frost, which came a little early this year, Orr added.
Soybeans and tobacco account for two of the county's top three crops, but the story has been a little different for corn-growers.
For those in the highland areas, it has been a great year for corn, Orr said.
"We had several acres that were really good corn," Orr said. "Storage has been a challenge for some this year -- that's the really good challenge."
Overall, both Orr and Haun dubbed 2013 a positive year for Greene County's agricultural producers, although not without its challenges.
"Farmers are eternal optimists, and it's been a good year to be optimistic," Orr concluded.