Purchase photos

Drought forces farmer to scramble for feed

9/14/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

LOGAN -- A year ago, Lloyd Schneider filled his silage pit with just 300 acres of feed.

This year, as he drove his Claas forage harvester through a struggling field of grain sorghum, he said he's already cut 600 acres of forage and grain sorghum and the pit is "halfway to where we were last year."

It's been a struggle to cope with the drought, but so far, he's been able to hold on to his cow herd.

He's had to send some north to Nebraska because the grass on his Logan-area farm hasn't been enough to support them.

Opening up Conservation Reserve Program acres for grazing or haying has helped, Schneider said, as did an extension that lets cattle remain on the CRP for an additional two months.

Conditions overall, said Schneider's farm manager Bryon Overmiller, are "pretty poor, but it could be worse."

"We could be standing here with absolutely nothing," he said.

It's close to that, as much of the milo, for example, won't be harvested.

Except for silage, that is.

Nearly 3,000 acres of milo was planted this year, "and I'm guessing we're going to cut a third," Overmiller said.

The rest will be going in the silage pit Overmiller was pressed into double-duty with, driving a silage truck and running the John Deere tractor packing it down.

Ironically, both Overmiller and Schneider said they struggle to find help on the farm. On Monday, Schneider was running the swather while Overmiller and another worker were driving trucks, only enough to cut a field just around the corner from the silage pit.

They were planning to cut near Speed but scrapped those plans because of a lack of manpower.

"We're trying to get more," Overmiller said of help on the farm. "We're needing a good cattle guy."

Schneider's operation runs anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 head of cows and keeps a large number of animals in a feedlot.

While Overmiller said he's the farm manager, he admits that simply means he's pressed into service throughout the farm.

"I get up every morning and wonder what hat it is going to be," Overmiller said of what he will doing.

In another 10 days to two weeks, he'll be out on the tractor.

"We'll be heading out and getting wheat put in the ground and praying for rain," Overmiller said.

He's still trying to decide if he should plant deep, where there's a bit of moisture or plant shallow and hope for rain.

"I suppose I'll put on a little fertilizer," he said, "just a start."

If rain falls and the wheat grows, he always can go back in and top dress fertilizer to give it a boost to grow.

Schneider's operation also does custom harvesting, and he's had to change the way he charges for cutting forage.

In the past, he'd charge per ton.

With so little to cut in a field, he's had to change it to charging by the acre just so he can cover his costs.

The losses on the farm, Schneider said, will extend across western Kansas as farmers won't have the extra cash to head to town to buy cars or trucks or other items.

"Western Kansas is agricultural-based, so it's going to be tough," he said of the economic effect caused by the drought.