Loss to Nebraska farmers due to drought estimated at least $2 billion this year

Northeast, southwest Nebraska included in ‘exceptional’ drought areas; entire state facing less moisture

By: - October 27, 2022 4:39 pm

A John Deere combine harvests a field of soybeans during the fall near Denton, Nebraska. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Drought conditions this year may cost Nebraska corn, soybean and wheat farmers nearly $2 billion, an agriculture economist estimated Thursday.

Nathan Dorn, who farms near Firth south of Lincoln, said he’s already cutting back on spending for new cattle and next year’s crop due to lower yields and increased costs for seed, fuel and fertilizer that he estimated at $13 an acre.

Higher prices, lower yields

“Yields are down, but prices are up,” Dorn said. “But having 60% of a crop is not the same as having 100% when you sit down with a banker.”

The Nebraska Farm Bureau held a press conference Thursday to highlight the challenges facing the state’s agriculture producers this year due to drought, rising input costs and challenges getting parts for repairs.

Parts of 20 counties in northeast and southwest Nebraska are deemed to be in “exceptional drought”— one that occurs only once in 50-100 years — according to the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Drought widespread

Portions of at least half of the state’s 93 counties are in “extreme drought,” the center’s map indicated. That is a drought that occurs every 20-50 years. The rest of Nebraska is rated as in “severe” or “moderate” drought.

Norfolk, in northeast Nebraska, has received about 11.6 inches of rain this year through Wednesday, compared to normal precipitation of 24.8 inches. Madrid, in southwest Nebraska, has gotten 7.1 inches of precipitation, 13 inches short of normal.

drought map
This week’s drought map showed large areas of Nebraska in extreme drought (light red) and exceptional drought (dark red) though showers were moving across northeast Nebraska on Thursday. Dark and light orange areas are areas of severe and moderate drought. (Courtesy of the National Drought Mitigation Center)

Jay Rempe, an economist with the Nebraska Farm Bureau, gave the $2 billion estimate. But he said the impact is likely worse because his estimate does not include projected yield decreases for other crops, like sorghum, sugar beets, sunflowers and dry beans.

“Making some assumptions regarding yields and prices in a world without drought, the value of this year’s corn crop could be $1.1 billion less compared to what might have been,” Rempe said, and the loss in soybeans was an estimated $674 million.

Wheat crop down

Rempe said that the state’s wheat crop was about 31% below normal. But he said exact drops in corn and soybean crops will be clearer when the fall harvest is completed.

Rempe said that while livestock prices have risen, producers have cut back on the cattle herd due to lack of feed, poor conditions of pastures and the increased cost of hay.

The decreased beef supply will translate into higher prices for consumers in the next couple of years. Rempe said.

Among the higher input costs are those for fertilizer, where prices have nearly doubled, and diesel, where prices have more than doubled, he said.

Economic impact

According to a nonscientific poll conducted recently by the Farm Bureau, farmers’ top concerns over the next year are input prices (35% of respondents), followed by drought (32%) and supply chain disruptions (20%).

Decreased income on the farm and ranch will eventually trickle down and impact Nebraska’s economy, according to Mark McHargue, president of Nebraska Farm Bureau.

Fire danger

 The wildfire that swept across five miles of farmland Sunday in southern Lancaster County began only a couple of miles from the farm of Nathan Dorn, whose uncle is State Sen. Myron Dorn.

 The fire was pushed by 30 mph winds but was fueled mostly by crop residue left on fields as part of no-till farming. Prior to no-till, farmers disced such residue into the soil, leaving little behind to burn.

When Nathan Dorn was asked whether farmers are rethinking no-till farming due to the fire risk, he said probably not.

No-till preserves soil moisture, which is vital in dry years like 2022, Dorn said, adding that he is always cognizant of fire risks when farming, because equipment can get hot, sparking a blaze.

Officials have said that Sunday’s fire was accidentally started by a shredder, a mower-like device used to chop down weeds and grass.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.