Midwest farmers under the gun to plant corn

By Jessie Higgins
Midwest farmers under the gun to plant corn
A cornfield in Indiana remained bare Thursday. As of Sunday, only 3 percent of the fields were planted in Indiana, putting the state far behind the average of 35 percent. Photo by Jessie Higgins/UPI

EVANSVILLE, Ind., May 10 (UPI) -- A markedly wet spring means the majority of America's cornfields still are not planted. After Friday, farmers begin losing yield every day their seeds are not in the ground.

If fields don't dry enough to plant by the end of the month, farmers in many areas of the Midwest won't be able to grow any corn this year.


"It all depends on how long this wet weather lasts," said Grant Kimberley, director of market development for the Iowa Soybean Association, who grows corn and soybeans. "After May 10, yields get worse every day. May 31 is the final planting date for corn in Iowa."

Most other corn-growing areas operate on a similar schedule. By now, the majority of fields usually are sown. But as of Sunday (the most recent data available), the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that only 23 percent of the nation's cornfields were planted. Several key corn-growing states were even further behind.


Ohio and Indiana had only 2 percent of their fields planted. North Dakota was at 1 percent. And South Dakota had not planted any.

To turn it around, the Midwest will need at least one full week of uninterrupted warm, sunny weather to pull enough moisture from the soil for farmers to get their tractors onto the fields, Kimberley said.

A few areas -- especially around Illinois -- may see a dry spell next week, according to some forecasts. A storm that forecasters expected to arrive there this weekend has re-routed to the south, which will provide a "dry window" of up to eight days, AccuWeather meteorologists predict.

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"There will be a longer stretch of dry weather -- over a week in a lot of places -- and that's enough to allow people to start catching up," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Jason Nicholls said. "I don't think they'll catch up all the way ... They'll make a lot of progress in Illinois next week, though, which is huge."

Elsewhere, the forecast calls for more rain.

"Two weeks from now, Minnesota and South Dakota will be the farthest behind," Nicholls said.

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Several things could happen in the areas where farmers are unable to plant corn. Some will plant soybeans instead.


Corn and soy need roughly the same elements to grow, and farmers often use the same fields to grow both -- switching between the two crops based on market conditions.

Because of the trade war with China -- America's leading soy importer -- the demand and price for U.S. soy fell sharply this year, and many farmers were unable to sell their fall harvests. As a result, many of them planned to plant more corn instead of soybeans this year.

However, soybeans have a longer window during which they can be planted without affecting their fall yields.

"If farmers can't get in to plant in the next few weeks here, there could be a switch to planting soybeans," said Jack Scoville, a market analyst for The PRICE Futures Group in Chicago. "That could hurt soybean prices even more if they plant a lot more soybean acres than they planned to, given that fact that we have a large supply already and limited demand."

The farmers' other option, if they simply can't get corn in the ground, is to forgo planting this year and file a claim on their "preventative planting insurance coverage" instead, Kimberley said. Preventative planting coverage can provide a portion of what farmers who are unable to plant would expect to receive per acre.


"In a normal year, you would see farmers switch to planting soybeans or early season corn," Kimberley said. "But at this point, it's not a good financial or business decision to plant soybeans."

On Kimberley's Iowa farm, he said, about 25 percent of his fields are planted. Most years, he is finished planting corn by now.

He is monitoring the moisture in his fields closely, considering whether it will be worth it to risk planting late in the season or simply claim the insurance on his unplanted fields.

"It's too early to know," Kimberley said. "But I'll bet this year we see an increased number of farmers taking their preventative planting provisions."

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