The seemingly unending spring rain has drawn a line in the sand for Fulton County corn growers, who must now decide to either tough out the planting season or surrender to Mother Nature.
“Across the county, there have been two decent days to plant, and even those days were less than ideal,” said Eric Richer, the county’s OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources. “I can honestly say I don’t know a farmer in the county who has planted 100% of their intended corn acreage for 2019.”
An informal poll Richer conducted with about two dozen area farmers revealed that only about 18% of the county’s corn crop is planted, and only about 6% of the soybean crop. Those numbers are 70% to 80% behind the five-year average for planting.
Although two-thirds of corn crops in Chesterfield, Dover, and Swancreek townships have been planted, county farmers generally have had only May 16 and June 8 to get into their fields, Richer said. Referencing some elderly local farmers, there hasn’t been a planting delay this worrisome since 1947, when corn was planted the last week of June, he said.
To worsen matters, on days without rain there hasn’t been enough heat or sunlight to dry out the saturated fields, Richer said.
Under current conditions, farmers must choose to forego planting a corn crop, plant late and face lower yields this fall or switch to soybeans, which can be planted later than corn.
Farmers who decide not to plant corn this season and must buy from other sources will likely experience increased prices, which will translate to higher costs at the grocer.
Those who opt for prevented plant crop insurance payments will see only about 55% of their claim, enough to cover their initial seed and fertilizer costs. “We’ll see more prevented plant claims in Fulton County than we’ve seen in a long time,” Richer predicted.
A Disaster Aid Bill passed by Congress two weeks ago will add $3 billion to prevented plant insurance. But because it must be dispersed as well to farmers across the nation hit by floods, hurricanes, and wildfires, the money could be spread thin.
Richer said farmers’ woes are mostly regional, throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. “There is going to be significant farm stress this year,” he added.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of June 9 only half of corn acreage had been planted in Ohio, as compared to 96% at the same time in 2018. Also by that date, only 32% of soybean crops had been planted, as compared to 89% this time last year. And while farmers in the central and southwest parts of the state had good conditions in which to plant, those in northwest Ohio weren’t so fortunate.
“Those farmers are still significantly behind,” said John Torres, a director at the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association.
He said a Williams County farmer reportedly was forced, with a penalty, to buy back corn contracts he had signed with an ethanol plant in Leipsic, Ohio, after managing to plant only 2% of his crop.
“Based on the statistics the government has kept, this has been the worst planting season since 1970. So this season has been a nail-biter,” Torres said.
The federal crop insurance deadline for late planting was June 6. Between then and June 25, those insured farmers will lose 1% of their coverage daily. As of June 26 the corn crop will no longer be insurable.
“That’s the deciding point whether we’ll have any corn crop at all,” Torres said. “We see people that are going to be in financial strain.”
The potential for farms going under is real, he said, although some farmers are still profiting from silage from last year’s large corn harvest.
And farmers who forego corn for soybeans at this late date may not be as safe as presumed, Torres said. The Trump administration’s trade war with China, the primary purchaser of American soybeans, has caused prices to suffer. An overproduction of the crop due to failed corn planting could worsen the situation.
Richard Miller, a Fayette livestock farmer for 37 years, normally has 300 acres each of corn and soybeans planted by this time of year. He managed to plant just 80 acres of corn last weekend during a break in the rain. He plans to try planting until June 20.
If conditions don’t improve soon, Miller will have to make a choice: either purchase corn to feed his 200 Holstein cows or sell them off and turn to crop farming. Feed remaining from last year’s crop will last only until October.
What concerns Miller is the potential rise in corn prices due to the planting crisis. He fears the current level of $4.25 per bushel could jump to $5.
“I just can’t make it work. The costs are too high to buy the corn. I might as well find a different way to make a living,” he said.
Miller said his 81-year-old father told him that neither he nor Miller’s grandfather ever faced the current planting dilemma. “We’ve seen through tough times before, but they cannot remember in their 100-year history not getting a crop planted,” he said.
He added, however, “There’s one thing you have to be if you’re a farmer, and that’s an optimistic.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.