America’s wettest year on record has come from months of heavy rainfall that soaked the country’s most fertile cropland. Farmland in midwestern states are trapped under inches of rain and water overflow from nearby riverbanks. Farmers in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, South Dakota, Ohio, and Michigan lost their ability to plant a majority of their corn and wheat seeds this planting season. From the Rocky Mountains to the Ohio River Valley, Americans have experienced strenuous weather. Millions of Midwesterners have endured relentless rainfall, hundreds of tornadoes, and uncontrolled flooding that’s spilled onto farmland. Many are feeling the consequences of yet another predicament they’ve faced within the past few years. After years of low prices, the ongoing trade turmoil with China preventing America’s largest soy buyer from purchasing soy from US farmers. Now they face unrelenting rainfall impeding their ability to produce the crops that keep their farms running.
A record level of corn has gone unplanted in 2019, a combined 31 million acres across central US states. A United States Department of Agriculture report shows as of June second, only sixty-six of the country’s ninety-three million acres of corn have been planted this year. At this point, all major-corn producing states would be at least eighty to ninety percent planted according to USDA’s historical averages. This is the slowest planting pace on record; compared to the next slowest at seventy-seven percent back in 1995.
Last week, crowd-sourced content service for financial markets, Seeking Alpha published that “2019 is turning out to be a nightmare that never ends for the agriculture industry. Thanks to endless rain and unprecedented flooding, fields all over the middle part of the country are absolutely soaked right now, and this has prevented many farmers from getting their crops in the ground.”
American farmers’ livelihoods largely depend on the planting and harvesting seasons. The planting window is shortening day by day due to passing storms carrying massive amounts of rainfall. As this window closes, many farmers are losing a large portion of their yields. And as they lose their yields, their income falls.
Kevin McNew, the chief economist for Farmers Business Network claimed in an article by AGPro, “The planting pace in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota are all at historically slow rates, leaving millions of acres unplanted. The current pace combined with other variables like weather and insurance-based economics should force the USDA to adjust their planted/harvest acres figures and the yield estimated in the June World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate.”
AccuWeather senior meteorologist, Jason Nicholls claims, “The next two weeks are critical for corn planting, most intended corn acres not planted by June 4th will likely go to soybeans or be left unplanted.”
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center reported twenty-three tornadoes last Tuesday and twenty-nine on Wednesday, breaking the all-time record for consecutive days with tornadoes. The 2019 tornado season so far has 611 documented tornadoes across the United States which have caused 38 casualties, up significantly from the ten fatalities in 2018.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintain 6,000 flood gauges on waterways across the country, in the upper Midwest and Central Plains 381 were above flood stage this week Much of the most severe flooding is concentrated in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, northwest Iowa, southeastern South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Oklahoma Governor, Kevin Stitt, declared a State of Emergency for all seventy-seven counties in the state, everyone impacted by flooding from severe storms. The declaration is the first step toward seeking federal assistance. Under the executive order, state agencies can make emergency purchases and acquisitions to expedite the delivery of resources to local jurisdictions to aid disaster relief.
Some climate scientists predicted this would happen, and if this the new norm, then farmers may have to adapt to these environmental impacts. Farmers have been unable to drive tractors through their farmland because it gets stuck in the mud, so they must consider new ways to continue their operation. Unaccustomed practices like no-till farming, cover cropping, and other conservation-based methods that prevent soil erosion are transitioning into techniques that are necessary for some farms after flood waters prevented planting. Making these transitions is easier said than done, as the process requires learning new procedures, but the weather is forcing some farmers to make the shift as quickly as they can.
Ray Gaesser, a farmer from Corning, Iowa, realized he needed to make the transition in May 2010. Gaesser farms roughly three thousand acres of soybeans and is a former president of the American Soybean Association. The corn-planting season in Iowa runs ranges from two to four weeks starting in April, but many farmers weren’t able to plant their crop within the timespan this year.
Gaessar claims it only took him thirty seconds to decide it was time to start planting cereals like rye, after watching his crops topple over and the soil run-off wash away his seeds after heavy rainfall. “I’ve been farming fifty-one years now,” he said. “That was the first four-inch rain in one hour that I’d seen in my lifetime. And every year but one, since then, we’ve had that.”
Corn and soybean production in the US will be lower than the USDA estimate for 2019, and way under the 2018 yield. AccuWeather estimates the 2019 corn crop will yield fourteen point one billion bushels, compared to the USDA’s estimated fifteen billion and 2018’s total yield of 14.3 billion.
Illinois and Iowa are the top two soybean producing states in the US. The USDA’s crop progress report shows only eleven percent of Illinois corn and four percent of soybeans have been planted so far. Last year’s figures show eighty-eight percent of corn and fifty-six percent of soybeans were already in the ground by this time. Terry Davis, a farmer from Roseville, Illinois, told FarmWeekDay.com: “this, without a doubt, has been the longest, most frustrating season I’ve had in my career.”
Nebraska is the country’s third top producer of corn. Megahn Schafer, executive director of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation stated that “seventy-four cities, sixty-five counties and four tribal areas have declared states of emergency.” And state officials report “The cost of the damage has surpassed one point three billion US dollars.”
The Indiana Farm Bureau posted last week, “We have never had a year quite like this before, and US food production is going to be substantially below expectations, I very much encourage everyone to get prepared for much higher food prices and a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the months ahead.”
USDA forecasts net farm income of sixty-nine point four billion dollars this year. If this prediction is accurate, it would be the third year of net income below seventy billion since 2015.
If the storms let up, farmers may be forced to work fourteen hour days to get their corn planted to make up for this year’s troublesome growing season. Scott Irwin, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, said to NewFoodEconomy.org, “If you plant too late, you may not get enough heat units to get the ear of corn mature and dry before you run into a severe frost in the fall, and that dramatically, as you might imagine, reduces yield. We’re about 20 percentage points behind the worst (corn planting) years of the last 40 (years), we are (headed) into uncharted territory.”
Instead of corn, many farmers may turn to soybeans, which usually gets planted later in the summer. Another option for farmers facing flooded fields is to apply for a form of crop insurance called prevented planting. Prevented planting is the failure to plant the insured crop with proper equipment by the final planting date designated in the insurance policy’s Special Provisions or during the late planting period. A recent Farm Journal Pulse poll shows thirty-four percent of corn growers plan to file for prevented plant payments on at least some of their acres this year.
Irwin estimates roughly thirty-one million acres of corn acreage will still be unplanted, a landmass that measures the size of New York state. One third will stay unplanted, meaning farmers will collect around three billion dollars in prevented planting payments. One third will be converted to soybeans and the last third be planted as corn, allowing farmers to cash in on what’s expected to be a limited supply of the crop with a very high demand price.
Corn is referred to as “yellow gold” because it’s used to make so many products and byproducts that end up circulating throughout the economy. It’s found on food store shelves and in gas pumps and industrial chemical plants. Corn is in almost everything, a majority of the corn produced in the US becomes livestock feed and ethanol fuel. The kernel is made up of four major components: starch, fiber, protein, and oil which can be processed and used in all kinds of products. In the US, a typical grocery store contains about four thousand items that list corn ingredients on its nutrition label. Many other products depend on corn as well, from paper goods and cardboard packaging to all the meat, milk, eggs, poultry and other protein products that come from corn-fed animals. According to IowaCorn, thirty-nine percent is used as feed, twenty-seven percent is used for ethanol-based fuel, sixteen percent is exported, and the remainder is put into circulation in the food industry.
Traders previously debated which crops US farmers would grow this year. But now, the question turns to how many acres will be left unplanted. Rabobank, a global leader in food and agriculture financing and sustainability-oriented banking, predicts an extraordinary number of unplanted acres of corn this growing season. A Bloomberg survey of ten traders and analysts indicates growers could file insurance claims for about six million corn acres they haven’t been able to plant, doubling the previous record in 2013.
According to Gro Intelligence, farmland that deteriorated over the past few months indicates significant corn acreage loss is a risk. Areas with the highest risk of loss include central Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and the regions around the borders of South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Corn futures surpassed twenty-percent to a three-year high in the past few weeks from the fear that farmers won’t get seeds in the ground ahead of crop-insurance deadlines.
For many farmers, the motto is: risk is the only constant. Whether it’s a destructive weather season or unexpected trade turmoil, farmers believe when they have a plan, to stick to it, for better or worse.
Thanks for watching, and thanks to our viewers for pointing out stories like this that don’t get a ton of airtime elsewhere. It may not be the sexiest story, but it’s an important one and we will continue to have updates as needed. If you’re a farmer experiencing challenges from flooding, we want to hear from you so reach out to us through firstname.lastname@example.org so we can hear your perspective.