Monday, June 17, 2019

Wet weather leaves vegetable farmers in a tough spot

The historic flooding and rain in the Midwest has wreaked havoc on crops of all types, but vegetable farmers are in a particularly tough spot. Unlike corn and soybean farmers, vegetable growers don't get a piece of the $16 billion disaster aid package, and they can't get federally subsidized crop insurance.

"Although the lack of federal safety-net programs for farmers who grow everything from arugula to zucchini isn’t new, one of the wettest springs in U.S. history has focused attention on the special status of so-called commodity crops, primarily corn, soybeans, cotton, rice and wheat," Scott McFetridge reports for The Associated Press. "Growers of some of those crops received $11 billion in special aid last year and will get $16 billion more this year to offset losses caused by trade disputes that led to tariffs and resulting drops in demand."

Corn and soy growers are treated differently because their crops are commodities important to the national economy; most of the production is used for animal feed, ethanol and seed for future crops, and only 1 percent is for human consumption. "There isn’t a replacement for such crops, and a shortage would be painful, particularly to the livestock industry," McFetridge reports.

Consumers might rue the shortage of one at-risk crop come Thanksgiving: pumpkins. Farmers are about three weeks behind in planting because of the rain, but are sowing "from dawn to dusk and even during the night to catch up," according to Mohammad Babadoost, a professor at the University of Illinois and Urbana-Champaign. Jim Ackerman, agriculture manager for canned pumpkin giant Libby's, told McFetridge that the pumpkin crop should ripen in time and meet demand if the weather gets warmer and drier this summer.

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