Persistent rain across Indiana continues to delay spring planting for Indiana’s farmers. As the rain continues, the possibility of fields left unplanted becomes a reality and Indiana’s farmers and agribusiness professionals are faced with many tough decisions.
Indiana Farm Bureau, the largest general farm organization in the state, spoke with farmers across the state about the complications surrounding this year’s unprecedented planting season.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s May 28 report, only 22% of Indiana’s corn crop and 11% of its soybean crop has been planted. Typically at this time, 85% of the corn crop and 63% of the soybean crop would be in the ground.
This delay in planting is the result of consistent rain across the state. In most areas, the soil has not had adequate time to dry, meaning farmers have not seen the conditions necessary to plant. While most of the Midwest is experiencing delayed planting, recent reports showed that Indiana is the furthest behind.
Don Lamb of Lamb Farms, Inc. in Lebanon, Indiana, who has approximately 10% of his crops planted, said that this truly is an unprecedented spring for Indiana farmers.
“My dad has been a farmer for more than 50 years and he has never experienced this,” said Lamb.
Bob Bishop of Bishop Farms in Leesburg, Indiana, who is more than halfway done with planting this year, echoes this statement. Bishop has been farming since 1972 and says while he’s experienced some very wet springs, he’s always seen conditions improve in May.
With June comes many deadlines and tough decisions. If planting continues into June, the crops will have a shorter growing season than ideal, and farmers will be forced to deal with many potential complications. This is particularly true for corn. For some, that simply means switching their seeds out for a shorter season hybrid. Bishop says he is already in the process of making that adjustment.
“I already sent back the 114-day corn to get some shorter season stuff,” he explained. “The next hybrid we have is 111 day, but I’m thinking about getting 108 or 99-day corn.”
June also brings deadlines for filing for prevented planting crop insurance. Insured farmers have the opportunity to file an insurance claim if they’re unable to plant some or all of their land due to weather.
“At Farm Bureau, we worked hard to advocate for a Farm Bill that would maintain crop insurance and we’re thankful that crop insurance remains an option for Indiana’s farmers,” said Randy Kron, INFB president. “It’s going to be critical this year.”
Alternately, in order to qualify for the current administration’s trade aid, farmers will only receive financial assistance on the land that they attempt to plant this spring. However, farmers have very few details about this aid package at this time, leaving them with much uncertainty as they weigh their options moving forward.
For some—especially the farmers who have yet to begin planting—utilizing these services may be the most economical option, but for others, they’re determined to finish planting the crop at all costs.
John Carnahan of Carnahan and Sons in Vincennes, Indiana says they have no intention of leaving any ground unplanted. They say even if their yields this fall are far below their average, they still expect a planted crop to bring in more money than reliance on insurance would.
“We can make more on three quarters of the crop than we could through our insurance, so it’s really not an option for us,” he explained. “We are going to get it in the ground. We won’t let it go unplanted.”
Bishop explains that even if fields are left unplanted this year, they still require maintenance.
“You’ve got to do something with it in the summer or you’ll have a heck of a weed problem later,” he said. “There are a few options but they’ll cost money to do.”
When the skies do break and farmers are able to continue planting, they will be in a rush to complete the job. Lana Wallpe, who farms in Fowler, Indiana described a recent scenario where she and her husband, Steve, worked into the early morning on a day that allowed them access to their fields.
“There’s a lot of talking with God and staying up until 1:30 in the morning to get your crop in.”
The effects of this planting season could be detrimental to an already strained agriculture industry. While not ideal, most farmers do have several options awaiting them, but for many agribusiness professionals, that is not the case.
“There are a lot of ramifications for the ag industry, as much or even more than for individual farmers,” said Lamb. “I am thankful that there are insurance options for us but they’re not available for everyone.”
Lamb is referring to the many agribusiness professionals who rely on a productive farming season as a core part of their business.
Jeff Demerly is the owner of Demerly Ag Plus, a seed dealership and agronomy service in Wolcott, Indiana. For Demerly, and the many other seed dealers and small agribusinesses across the state, a spring with less seeds planted means a less profitable year.
If a farmer is not able to plant a bag of seed that is purchased, it can be returned to the dealer. The dealer would then return that seed to the manufacturer if there is no other demand for the product.
“If I send back a bag of corn, I don’t get credit for that from a sales perspective,” said Demerly. “Let’s say worst case scenario no more than 30% of my seeds are planted, that means 70% of my business is in jeopardy.”
Seed dealers aren’t the only businesses in jeopardy. If farmers are not able to get the majority of their crop in the ground this year, other agribusinesses, from retail to processing, will feel the strain of an underproductive farm economy.
“It’s the small mom and pop ag businesses that are supporting your community that are in jeopardy,” said Demerly. “If things don’t turn around, it’s the self-employed ag entrepreneur that’s not going to be able to invest back into the economy.”
Beyond agriculture, adjacent businesses, such as steel and fuel, also are starting to feel the effects.
“The concerns are real for Indiana’s rural communities,” said Kron. “What our farmers feel now, the rest of our communities feel later. But if we can get more of our crop in the ground over the next couple of weeks, we can minimize the negative effects of this planting season.”
One glimmer of hope comes in the form of higher corn prices and many farmers are taking advantage of those prices by selling some of what they have remaining from last year’s crop. However, if the price of corn continues to increase, that could have negative effects on livestock operations that use the corn for feed.
“Farmers are in a tough place right now and are faced with many unknowns, but they’re exceptional business men and women and they’re optimistic by nature,” said Kron.
“You have to be the eternal optimist to be a farmer. Who knows what the rest of the year is going to bring,” added Carnahan. “We could get plenty of rain once the crop is in and still have a decent year.”