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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

War takes a toll on nation's farms

Monday, April 7, 2003

SIKESTON -- Increasing fuel and fertilizer prices and finding themselves shorthanded are just some of the recent effects of the war on American farmers.

But Vicki Deane of Sikeston doesn't think higher fuel prices and natural gas prices can be entirely blamed on the war.

"Honestly, 9-11 affected us way more than this war is. After 9-11, we had to check before we flew crop dusters," Deane noted.

Fertilizer prices have taken a huge jump since the first of the year, Deane said. Fertilizer prices, especially nitrogen-based fertilizers follow oil prices closely, and nitrogen fertilizers have risen as much as 40 percent since January.

"From information we read in agricultural periodicals, the increase in fuel prices and consequently fertilizer prices, was due to the combination of a colder than normal winter and the threat of the impending war," Deane pointed out.

The threat of war with Iraq a couple of months ago had a substantial effect on some farm prices, noted Deane. Fuel prices rose as the war seemed more inevitable. However, after the war began and has been going on for some two weeks, fuel prices have declined slightly, she added.

"I don't know if this was due to the fact that oil wells in the battlefield were secured and the war effort was going well or if there were other reasons," Deane said.

David Reinbott, agricultural economist for the Scott County University Outreach and Extension Office, said the war may open doors for wheat exports, as well as rice exports since Iraq used to be a big buyer of rice, he pointed out.

Apparently Reinbott has been doing his homework because late last week, following a request from Republican Sen. Jim Talent, the United States decided to send 25,000 metric tons of rice to Iraq as part of its humanitarian aid effort.

Talent asked President Bush in February to include rice among the food items sent to feed the Iraqi people. The Department of Agriculture authorized the rice purchase on Thursday.

Talent, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Iraq was one of the U.S. rice industry's top export markets before sanctions were imposed on the Middle Eastern country.

Rice is grown in 10 southeast Missouri counties. The market value of the state's rice crop in 2001 was about $48.4 million.

However, Bruce Bullock, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said he doesn't think the war has affected farmers any more than it has other groups.

"People in the trucking industry were just as affected by higher fuel prices as farmers were," Bullock said.

In addition to higher fuel prices, farms (and other businesses) were also and are still being hit by military deployments. Although the Deanes have a son who is currently serving in Iraq, Deane said it hasn't affected their farming situation, but she said she's sure there are families who have.

Take for instance Darlene Bohl of Bismarck, N.D. With three of her sons serving in the military during the war, Bohl had no choice but to sell nearly 90 percent of her herd of cattle.

"I've been trying to keep the farm going with my sons," said Bohl, a 55-year-old widow of four years who also works full-time as a state Tax Department auditor. "It's going to be really tough this year. I'm lucky I've got good neighbors who are going to help me while my boys are gone."

Bohl has cut the cattle on her ranch to less than two dozen animals and increased the amount of crop land she rents out by nearly one-third.

Bohl has a fourth son who will be around this summer to help out on the farm. But Robert, 21, a student at North Dakota Sate University, will be leaving in July for ROTC training.

The job at the Capitol provides Bohl backup income, but she still is preparing for what could be a tough year financially. And the months ahead could be even more challenging on an emotional level, she said.

"I'm hoping and praying they all come home safe and sound," Bohl said. "I'll come through the rest of it."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.