Published on 08/05/98

Southern Farmers Hang on to Hope -- Others Give up on Crops

In a summer plagued by drought and heat, many Southern crops are withering in the fields, taking farmers' profits down with them.

Some farmers are fighting to break even. But others have had to give up hope that this year's crop will survive to harvest.

"Farmers must decide if they're going to continue to nurture that crop or give up and plow it under," said George Shumaker, an Extension Service economist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Making that decision takes courage and careful calculation.

"Any money they've spent on the crop to this point is a sunk cost that doesn't enter into the equation," Shumaker said. "Even though they have spent most of the amount it will cost, it doesn't enter into the decision on whether to continue."

Beginning with that assumption allows farmers to continue with a clearer eye.

"What the farmer needs to do is to estimate how much money it will cost from this point forward to carry that crop out through harvest," Shumaker said.

They must make their best estimate as to how much crop will be harvested, then multiply that times a fair market price. That will give them a projected income if the crop continues to maturity.

Finally, farmers must compare that income to the amount it will cost them to get there.

"If the projected income will cover the cost of continuing to nurture the crop and harvest it, they should continue to try to make a crop," Shumaker said. "If their estimated costs are greater than the estimated value of the crop, they should discontinue their efforts."

With Georgia farmers facing one of the worst drought disasters in recent years, many will be making the critical decision. Already, Georgia farmers have lost more than $405 million in gross farm receipts, according to estimates by the UGA Center of Agribusiness and Economic Development.

"We don't know any figures on how many farmers are giving up now," Shumaker said. "It depends on the crop. Even our irrigated corn is close to maturity right now. So there is little more that a farmer would have to do other than harvest. Some of the dryland corn simply didn't make a crop. And some of that land was abandoned this year."

Other crops like peanuts, soybeans and cotton still have time to go before they reach maturity. Recent rains may help save them.

"This late rain helps all three," Shumaker said. "But will help peanuts and soybeans more than cotton."

"There is no cutoff date at which you give up hope," Shumaker said. "It's highly dependent on individual farms -- what situation they're facing, and when each crop was put in the ground."

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.