The drought of ’12 is on its way to being the worst in a very long time. It has already tied most of the records set in 1988, and it is only July with no sign the weather is going to change anytime soon. As a result, markets are soaring; consumers are panicking; and farmers are finding themselves in a very strange position. They are the new darlings of the mass media. The drought is the perfect storm for the media. It is slow moving, so reporters can take their time in producing stories and editing video. It is widespread, so it is great fodder for local, national, and even international news organizations. It has an element of suspense, since no one knows how long it will last. It has political and economic ramifications, so talk shows and business programs can get in on the act. And, it has a great human element: the desperate farmer as his crops burn up in the field. This last is the reason farmers have found themselves in a very unique position.
The other morning while enjoying my first cup of coffee, I punched up the Fox Business app on my smartphone. Expecting to see the top stories about the debt crises in Europe or the economic slump here at home, I was shocked to find the top story was about how corn and soybean prices had hit new highs the previous day. Typically, it takes a lot of digging to even find commodity prices on most business web sites or even in the business sections of newspapers. Most business reporters I have known are almost totally ignorant about the soft commodities of corn, soybeans, wheat, butter, cheese, cotton, and the like. After watching a few of their reports, I realized they are still just as ignorant about the commodity markets but they are putting these reports on the front page.
Farmers are also making the front page. On July 13, Indiana farmer and Indiana Farm Bureau president Don Villwock was lucky enough to be the feature story on CNN.com. In typical CNN style, the coverage was over dramatic, “Villwock, 61, walks his hard-hit 4,000 acres in southwest Indiana in utter dismay.” It only took a few more sentences before the story got to where almost every mass media story about the drought goes, food prices, “But down the line, people are certain to be paying more for food this year.” Last week USA Today found its way to Kosciusko County, Indiana, and put farmer Craig Ganshorn in the spotlight. Within the first 12 sentences of the article, the food price issue was raised, “That, in turn, could mean higher prices for meat and dairy products next year.”
While it is certainly true there will be an impact on food prices and supplies over the next 12 months as a result of the drought, the results will be temporary, and the draconian price hikes forecast by the media are not likely to materialize. There are many factors that go into the price of the food we buy and the cost of farm products is only a part — and, in some cases, a very small part. If the media thinks a 3-6% increase in food prices is so onerous, why don’t they raise a big a fuss when gasoline prices jump 30 cents a gallon overnight for no reason anyone outside of the oil industry can explain?
For me, the real story of the drought is not the state of the crop, the high price of corn, or what food prices might do, but rather how farmers are handling the drought. While the media focuses on the farmer’s disappointment and discouragement, they miss the resolve. American farmers planted this year’s crop knowing full well there could be a drought and, despite the losses, most will plant again next spring. Most Americans cannot conceive of the kind of faith and character it takes to pray for rain on Sunday and accept with quiet resolution what nature delivers on Monday. Most farmers do not look at a single crop year, but take the long view that sees their operation in the context of decades or even generations — a lesson our nation’s leaders would be well to learn. The media needs to come back to the farm next spring when, with more optimism than a Cubs fan, farmers will put the drought behind them and begin another season. That is the real story of the drought of 2012.
by Gary Truitt