Farmers and ranchers discuss outlook for agriculture at Farm Expo, effects of record rainfall in 2018

Brandon Paykamian • Jan 12, 2019 at 9:40 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — When local farmers and ranchers arrived at the Ron Ramsey Regional Agricultural Center Saturday morning for the annual Appalachian Farm Expo, there was a lot of discussion about the outlook for agriculture in 2019.

One of the biggest concerns for Jonah Lee, who runs Rolling Hill Farms in Scott County, Virginia, was 2018’s record rainfall of 67.1 inches — the highest since 1973.

“We had a really hard time because it rained almost every week, so it was pretty tough,” he said. “We do beef and sheep, so we have to put out probably 600 rolls of hay.

“One thing that we noticed this season was there was low mineral content in the hay, and some of my neighbors lost a cow to that because there was so much water content in the hay,” he continued. “It just wasn’t as nutritional.”

This did not fit well with lower beef prices, according to Lee. He said local farmers are often at the mercy of the markets. 

“Beef prices are down right now,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll go back up in the next few months.”

But Lee hopes he can see more profits in the organic beef market in the coming years, as well as selling equipment to other farmers. 

“There’s got to be a niche market, so we’re trying to go more grass-fed, organic meat,” he said. “That’s where we are headed. We don’t know when this will happen, but this is where we want to go.” 

For Jared and Julia Dingus, two farmers located near Tri-Cities Airport, last year’s rain and mud caused a lot of problems for the sheep on their micro-farm. 

“We have a lot of sheep, and it’s very important to take care of their feet because, in the mud, they get foot-rot. It can cause quite a few problems,” Jared Dingus said. 

Some larger farmers and ranchers elsewhere have had some concerns about how the government shutdown — the longest in American history — will affect agriculture as Republicans under President Donald Trump continue their battle with Democrats over the funding of a proposed border wall.

Jared said he isn’t concerned about how the government shutdown will affect local small farmers. He said he thinks the president has “been good for us” and for other farmers, and he added that China has still been importing American agricultural products, despite recent trade tensions. 

But like Lee, he is especially concerned about things like beef prices. 

“The problem with the markets is it’s set up for the ‘middle man’ — the farmer doesn’t make much,” he said, adding he hopes to see prices rise.

Johnson City Press Videos