Wet Spring And Trade War Complicate Decisions For Farmers

May 29, 2019
Originally published on May 28, 2019 6:00 am

Many Iowa farmers are behind in planting their corn and soybeans this year, and while the wet spring weather is the primary reason, other factors will play into critical decisions they will soon have to make.

Much of the corn already in the ground has been pummeled with rain and some of it may need to be replanted. Moving into June, farmers will be past the first crop insurance deadline for planting corn, meaning if they ultimately make a claim on this year’s crop, those acres would suffer a small penalty for going in late.

The later seeds go in the ground, the more farmers will need to consider whether, or when, to switch to a faster-maturing seed variety.

“If you plant a full season (variety) and it’s the end of June, is it going to reach maturity?” asked Rebecca Vittetoe, a field agronomist with Iowa State University Extension in eastern Iowa. “And then also, knowing you’re going to have to deal with wet grain in the fall—if farmers are set up for that, that’s one thing. If they’re not set up to handle the wet corn, they might consider switching to an earlier maturity sooner.”

However stressful, those concerns are normal enough in a wet year, but the ongoing trade disputes and the recently announced second round of the Market Facilitation Program to ease the tariff impact on farmers are complicating the picture for 2019.

“There’s really a lot of things going on in the background,” said Steve Johnson, Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist for Polk County. “But a farmer has to weigh their decisions of delayed and prevented planting, and there’s an agronomic component, and there’s an economic component.”

Johnson further explains that if weather makes planting impossible, farmers would need to activate the “prevented planting” part of their crop insurance, disqualifying them from the bailout money.

Whichever way they go, Johnson said some farmers may find if the season isn’t profitable, federal support from the trade mitigation program or crop insurance could mean “all I got was the right to farm that farm another year.”

He said ripple effects in communities where farmers wind up with many acres of prevented planting could include lost revenue from unneeded fertilizer and chemicals and less need for harvest-season labor.

Farmers who did get their corn planted are seeing it take longer to emerge, Vittetoe said, because of cool temperatures. And even casual drivers in farm country will likely see fields with pools of water in many parts of the state.

Both corn and soybeans are behind last year and the five-year average for planting progress, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Copyright 2019 Iowa Public Radio News. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio News.