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How struggles for ranchers and farmers this year could impact Oklahoma's agriculture

Posted at 10:13 PM, Nov 18, 2019

Record floods in the spring and early summer along with washed out crops.

Tariff worries pushing down farm commodities and low cattle prices.

It all adds up to an exceptionally rough year for farmers and ranchers in northeast Oklahoma.

It also has the potential to impact who keeps farming and how for years to come.

Near Checotah, cattle eagerly race up to Josh Emerson's feed truck.

"They can't wait especially this time of year," Emerson said. "The grass is gettin' tougher."

Emerson is proud to be an independent rancher.

"We want to pass this on down to the next generation so we're gonna fight to stay in," Emerson said.

Bart Weidel and his sons are also fighting.

They want to keep their cattle and hay mowing operations in Muskogee County.

To do it, they are relying on new technology to help turn a profit even in tough times.

For instance, they now use a mower that cuts a 13-foot swath on each pass.

It lets them cut down more hay and much faster than with their older equipment.

However, Mother Nature wasn't kind to this year's hay crop.

"It rained so much down here so often you just could never work a week or two straight and in the summertime," Weidel said. "We need to work a lot of days straight to get things done."

At the Tulsa Stockyards, the price ranchers are getting for cattle this fall is down.

Three-to-five years ago, Emerson said ranchers made up to $500 profit on a single high-quality calf.

"Now I would say on average maybe around $100 profit... if that," He said.

Harsh weather, high production expenses, and low profits for cattle and farm commodities are squeezing many agricultural producers to the point of calling it quits.

"I see some guys that are probably not in this deal for the long haul that might decide it's not worth staying in," Emerson said.

Troy Marshall is with the United States Department of Agriculture already shows Oklahoma losing farms.

"Overall, we're seeing a decline in the number of farms," Marshall said. "When we look back at the census of Agriculture that's done every five years, we can see that there was a downward trend in that. We went from around 80,000 to about 78,000 farms in Oklahoma - looking at that statewide but yes, we are seeing that trend in Oklahoma and across many of the other states as well."

Marshall added, "It's all about the uncertainty. That uncertainty between you know those prices and trade definitely make it a little more unstable."

As for who stays in business, Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary, Blayne Arthur, expects changes in how they do business will become necessary.

Arthur told 2 Works for You, "I would anticipate that we will have a lot of operations that have a change in how they are managed over the next year if we continue to see the struggling prices."

Arthur said that means some farmers and ranchers will sell-off while others will choose to pass down operations to their children or leas their operations to another producer.

Emerson is worried ranchers in Northeast Oklahoma will go the way of many pork and poultry farms.

"I worry more about vertical integration," he said, "Where we end up doing it for a company, or where we're grazing cattle for a company like a pork producer or poultry producers and we're not independent producers anymore. I think it's probably closer than we want it to be."

Farmers and ranchers are getting some relief from USDA programs that help take the sting out of losses.

However, even that might not be enough to keep some in business when profit margins are already so thin.

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