Unprecedented rainfall continues to delay planting — and for some farming operations in the Midwest and in Cass County, prevent it altogether. Given the massive delays and lack of planting progress to date, a free informational meeting will be held today, May 30, at 1 p.m. in the Cass County 4-H Community Center at the Cass County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Rainstorms have led to wet fields stretching across the Midwest — some drying just in time to get soaked again — and to a historically slow start to spring planting. Many areas are nearing the latest possible date to plant corn and be fully covered under federal crop insurance. With the planting window closing, farmers must decide whether to push ahead with a corn crop and deal with diminished yields, switch those acres over to potentially money-losing soybeans or decide against planting a crop at all.

Some farmers would prefer to plant corn this year since soybeans prices continue to hit new lows during the ongoing trade war with China.

According to representatives of Dick Sims Insurance Agency, it’s not just individual farms that are affected by these extreme weather patterns but the entire farming economy.

“We’ve had wet springs before, but at least the farmers were able to get seed planted during those years,” said Scott Rush, crop insurance agent with Dick Sims Insurance Agency. “This year, some of them haven’t even been able to get started because the fields are too wet, and now the calendar is getting so late that the crops will have a shorter growing period, which means lower yields.”

Saturated soils present significant challenges for agricultural lands. Substantial rainfall like the region has experienced recently has many direct impacts on these fields, the most prominent being deposition of sand and debris on productive lands, erosion of agricultural soils and flooded soil syndrome — the loss of beneficial fungi which mobilize soil-based plant nutrients.

“It seems that Cass County has been at the front of a lot of this wet weather,” Rush said. “We have good, heavier soils here that retain water well, so it takes longer for them to dry out.”

The resulting challenges farmers are faced with after these flooding effects — yield losses and devastation of arable land — can snowball into a number of different legal, economic and physical challenges. Rush said that all of this adds up to a lot of financial stress and concerns for farm families — and for the agriculture industry as a whole.

He added that it’s important to help farmers understand and utilize crop insurance as a true risk-management tool.

“The best risk management tool there is to combat all of that uncertainty is crop insurance,” Rush explained. “There is no other input that a farmer can spend money on that will guarantee them a certain level of revenue at the end of each year.”

Farmers can choose the level of deductible that works best for their operation so they at least know the minimum revenue to expect at the end of the year. Rush explained that in the case of a wet spring like this one, “prevented planting” provisions built into certain policies can offer farmers another layer of protection against not being able to get their crops in.

In this scenario, the farmer would receive a payment on acres that they cannot plant, which will help cover the costs that they’ve already incurred. Rush said that while this isn’t the farmer’s first option — because they’d rather plant the crop — it at least covers some input costs.

“Most people don’t realize how high risk and expensive the business of farming is,” Rush said. “Some farmers invest around $400-$700 per acre in putting out a crop to give it the best chance of succeeding, and sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate.”

Cass County councilman Brian Reed has been farming in the Walton and Galveston areas for more than 25 years. He currently farms 1,000 acres each of corn and soybeans. He said that in a “normal” year, he’d start planting by April 15.

“Very few farmers in this area have had to deal with prevented planting — maybe some on a small scale — but in recent years, it hasn’t been a big issue,” Reed said. “I’ve never planted corn in June and I haven’t planted corn in May in probably eight or nine years — it’s been a long time. But as of right now, I’ve only got 350 acres of corn planted out of a thousand and 250 acres of beans out of a thousand.”

Reed said that farmers can only make decisions based on the information available to them. He noted that it’s an “imperfect science.”

“Trying to make the best decision you can — planting corn, versus planting beans, versus taking a prevented planting payment — you see what options make sense for your particular farm operation. That’s what this meeting is all about.”

The National Agricultural Statistical Service reported there were over 56,000 farming operations in Indiana in 2018 that planted over 5.3 million acres of corn and 5.9 million acres of soybeans — a total crop value worth more than $6.5 billion.

As of May 26, only 22 percent of Indiana corn crop had been planted compared to 94 percent last year. Eleven percent of Indiana soybeans have been planted compared to 85 percent last year and only 58 percent of the nation’s corn has been planted compared to 90% last year.

Indiana claims supervisor Sharon Shock with Great American Insurance will discuss the details on the “prevented planting” provisions for crop insurance at the meeting today at the Cass County 4-H Community Center. Additionally, agents from Dick Sims Crop Insurance will be on hand for questions and Mike Silver of Kokomo Grain will provide market comments and offer insights into how to capitalize on summer weather market rallies. Local Farm Service Agency personnel will also be in attendance to address the latest directives they have received on related topics.

Reach Quentin Blount at quentin.blount@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5130.

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