US Corn Farmers Battle Wet Weather
Farmers in the eastern U.S. Corn Belt are in a race with Mother Nature.
According to Reuters, unfavorable planting weather has kept farmers, like Monty Whipple, from planting their corn crop on time.
Whipple, whose 400-acre farm is located 90 miles southwest of Chicago, has been unable to plant his crop because of muddy fields. Neighboring farms have as much as a foot of standing water.
Trying to plant in the conditions will result in a stuck tractor, or compressed soil which won’t allow seeds to set.
The rule of thumb for corn farmers in the Midwest is that for each day planted after May 15, a bushel of corn is lost per acre.
“In the back of your mind you’re thinking, ‘If I don’t plant it today, it’s going to be another week’,” Whipple, 58, told Reuters News.
“They say farming is nothing but a big gamble — gambling on prices, gambling on the weather. In the long run, you make a good living at it,” he said.
The weather has divided the Corn Belt in half along the Mississippi River this planting season.
Illinois, one of the two top corn-producing states in the U.S., only had 10 percent of its corn planted as of last week.
In comparison, Iowa, the other top corn-producing state, had 81 percent of its corn crop planted.
Farmers in the eastern Corn Belt must now decide between smaller corn yields, or planting soybeans instead.
U.S. farmers are still forecasted to plant the third-largest corn crop on record at 12.09 billion bushels, despite the heavy rains that have slowed their progress.
“It’s going to be the most expensive and frustrating crop,” said Ken Beck, 48, who farms 1,500 acres of corn and 500 acres of soybeans in Ophir Township, Ill. “We’ve had the highest input prices and everything is still in the bag.”
Beck cannot switch to soybeans because he has already purchased and applied fertilizer to his fields.
Last summer, farmer input costs, such as fertilizer and seeds, increased along with corn, which hit a record $7.65 a bushel on June 27, 2008.
Beck locked in his fertilizer prices near that time expecting corn and fertilizer to continue their rise.
The prices quickly tumbled a month after reaching the record as a result of the global recession.
“We all knew it couldn’t last. But it was like the housing bubble — it was good while it lasted,” he said.
Beck’s input costs were nearly $700 an acre. He believes he can make a profit of $100 per acre if the current price of $4 per bushel holds steady, and he can yield 200 bushels of corn.
Luckily, favorable planting weather appears to be on the way.
“It certainly looks like a break in the weather is coming. It could be the driest week for the central crop belt for this growing season so far,” said Mike Palmerino, a DTN Meteorlogix forecaster.
It may be Wednesday or later before fields dry out enough for farmers to begin planting.
“Mother Nature already took about 45 bushels per acre. I know that,” Beck said.
“This next week will tell a lot,” said Whipple, while taking a break after delivering a truckload of last year’s crop to a grain elevator.
“We are never comfortable until (the corn is) in the bin.”