Skip to main content

Why the drought affects me -- and you

By Chris Chinn, Special to CNN
July 23, 2012 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Corn plants struggle to survive in a drought-stricken farm field near Oakton, Indiana.
Corn plants struggle to survive in a drought-stricken farm field near Oakton, Indiana.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chris Chinn's farm has been badly affected by the drought
  • She says the bill to feed her livestock is increasing fast because of crop losses
  • Chinn: The drought means taking on more debt and possibly selling off livestock
  • The drought will change lives on farms and will raise food prices for all, she says

Editor's note: Chris Chinn is a family farmer in Missouri. She adapted this essay from her blog.

(CNN) -- The drought of 2012 will be one that farmers and ranchers remember for years to come. My husband, Kevin, and I are fifth-generation farmers. This is the first drought we have experienced since we were married and started farming together in 1995.

Our farm, like most other U.S. farms, is really suffering right now and in desperate need of rain. The media have pegged it right: it definitely is the worst drought of our generation.

Kevin and I own and raise hogs, cattle, corn, soybeans and alfalfa hay on our farm. Typically, we don't have a lot of crops to farm, but this year we decided to rent an extra 200 acres for that purpose, doubling our row-crop acreage. We were able to purchase crop insurance for most of our crops, but unfortunately that alone will not help make our farm or equipment payments to the bank since most of our crops are ruined.

Chris Chinn
Chris Chinn

Our crop failure isn't what keeps me awake at night these days; it's worrying about our animals. No crops means no feed for livestock. We can't stop feeding cattle and hogs. We own 60 head of cattle, and our family has 1,500 sows on our farm. Bountiful crops are needed for an adequate feed supply, but so too are healthy pastures for cattle grazing. Both need rain.

Hogs eat mostly corn and soybeans because they are not ruminant animals, which means they do not have four stomach chambers like cattle, which can digest hay and grass. The price to purchase corn and soybeans is skyrocketing because of crop losses across most of the United States.

Unlike crop farmers, livestock farmers and ranchers do not have insurance programs to ease the losses during disaster years. When our feed costs get out of control, or when a disease devastates our herd, there is no relief from insurance. This is a total loss for farmers and ranchers. To pay the bills, we have to go to the bank and borrow more money to help us survive the storm. This means yet another loan payment.

Drought forces farmers to sell cattle
Farmers warn of drought's impact
Hog farmers struggling to feed livestock

When my expenses increase on our farm, it would be nice to tell the packer who buys my hogs that I need to be paid more so I can make ends meet. But it doesn't work that way.

Hogs feel drought's pinch

We are price takers; supply and demand drive the price we are paid for hogs. Even though my feed bills are increasing at alarming rates, right now it doesn't mean that pork demand has increased in line with my expenses. Farmers have to wait for an increase in demand, or decrease in supply, to see their prices increase.

I have been asked before why I just don't hold on to our hogs and wait for someone to pay me what I need to pay my feed bills. This is because packers only accept a certain weight so they can meet consumer demand.

Consumers want a consistent size piece of pork -- not too big or too small --and they want their chops to look the same each time they go to the store. To meet this demand, farmers can't sell hogs that are overweight or underweight.

The pain of this drought doesn't stop with farmers and ranchers.

Everyone has a vested interest in how Mother Nature is behaving. Food availability will be affected because farmers will be producing less food. In the end, this will lead to increased food prices. A number of livestock farmers and ranchers will be faced with difficult decisions. Some will be forced to leave the farm or ranch and find new jobs in neighboring towns, while others may have to sell their family farm or ranch.

The bottom line is: If you eat, this drought will affect you.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chris Chinn.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT