Farming is a risky business. Unpredictable and uncooperative weather is a major risk farmers face every day and every year. No other business or profession is as dependent on factors completely outside their control as farming. And as the saying goes “mother nature bats last.” Many farmers throughout Illinois are experiencing this hard truth right now.
According to the Illinois State Climatologist, this past June was the wettest on record following a very wet May and what is shaping up to be a record July. Its starting to take its toll on farmers and their crops.
In July, I had the pleasure of attending part of a Chef Camp at Spence Farm in Fairbury Illinois put on by the Spence Farm Foundation. While I was there I got to talking to Marty Travis, owner and operator of Spence Farm, about the rain, and what he said surprised me at first. He told me it was worse than the drought that slammed the midwest in 2012. He explained to me that in a drought their healthy soils and high organic matter helped to mitigate the problem and they could also heavily mulch their crops and haul in water from other places, but there is nothing they can do about too much water. He further explained that it was so wet that his usually healthy soil filled with aerobic beneficial microbes was going anaerobic and it was killing the crops, “it’s like pouring round-up on your crops, the plants just can’t survive in these conditions.”
His story is not unlike many farmers across Illinois, whether it is a conventional corn and soybean farmer or a diversified sustainable farm, the rain is really taking its toll. But unlike the conventional commodity producers that have taxpayer subsidized crop insurance, diversified organic and sustainable farms growing to sell locally, by and large, don’t have crop insurance and have therefore been left twisting in the wind, or more accurately, thrown overboard without a life vest. There has been some improvements in recent years when it comes to better supporting the future of American agriculture, the 2014 Farm Bill included a new Whole Farm Revenue insurance program intended to provide some support to farmers like Marty Travis, but that program is so new most know little about it, and I have even heard that despite attempts to make it work for diversified sustainable farms it still doesn’t.
This is where you come in. It is times like these where it is critical that those committed to local food, and organic and sustainable farming, step up to the plate. Next time you are at the Co-op, buy that extra bunch of local carrots or kale and then attend one of the upcoming Local Flavors of Central Illinois lunches or dinners featuring local food. Also, if you didn’t already know August 2- 8 is National Farmers Market week, which is a great time to show your support for local, sustainable farmers. Head on out to the Urbana Market at the Square and show your support by digging a little deeper and buying that extra tomato. While you're at it bring a friend who doesn’t normally go to the farmers market. They need all the support they can get.