Record-breaking rainfall has left area farmers with a tough decision this week — and every option could mean huge financial losses for farms in the region.
Ohio farmers have until Wednesday to decide whether they’ll take the risk of planting a corn field that may only produce half the normal yield, switch to soybeans that have a later planting date but are also facing planting concerns or take a loss with prevented planting crop insurance that may only pay half of what they would earn by planting the field.
“The people that have been in this business a long time say this is probably the worst we’ve ever been in modern agriculture,” said Sam Custer, Ohio State Extension educator in Darke County.
Across Ohio, only 33 percent of corn and 18 percent of soybeans had been planted as of Sunday, compared to a 90 percent and 76 percent average respectively by that time over the last five years.
Some farmers who have never made a claim with prevented crop insurance — which uses a formula that takes into account yield history and average crop price to pay farmers who can’t get into the fields — may have to this year, said Gail Lierer, Butler County’s Farm Bureau president, a farmer and crop insurance seller.
The average Darke County farmer would get about $348 per acre of corn in prevented planting insurance, well below the roughly $800 per acre if they were able to plant fields during prime season, Custer said.
Some who are renting land, though, pay about $250 per acre, and others with mortgage on land could be paying more. Add equipment bills and other costs and farmers could face major financial losses this year, he said.
“We’ve never had a year this bad. I think the ones up north are going to be in the worst situation ever. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Lierer said.
Dean Thompson only plants soybeans, which have a June 20 prevented crop insurance deadline. The Darke County farmer is usually wrapping up planting by this time, but he and his brother haven’t planted a single acre this year as a result of months long wet conditions as rains continue pushing into the Miami Valley.
So far in 2019, 23.27 inches of rain and melted snow and ice have fallen at the Dayton International Airport. That’s 6.23 inches more than the area’s norm. Humid stormy weather is expected to reenter the Miami Valley Tuesday night and last several days, likely further preventing progress for the region’s planting, according to Storm Center 7 meteorologist Jesse Maag.
“I’ve always told anyone who’s willing to listen to me. We’ve always got it in the ground before. We didn’t know when, but we’ve always got it in the ground before,” Thompson said. “But there’s also another saying that says ‘never say never.’ And it might be the year that it doesn’t get in the ground.”
The average farmer who can’t plant soybeans by the deadline later this month will get $234 in insurance as opposed to $574 if they planted the acres.
Most Ohio farmers have prevented planting insurance, Custer said, but they would rather produce than use it.
But this year, up to a third of the acres in Darke County, Mercer County and other counties further north could go unplanted and be covered by prevented planting insurance, Custer said. Other acres that aren’t yet planted could be switched to beans still or could take a late corn planting so farmers are able to feed livestock.
But switching to soybeans could hurt farmers too because switching to a second crop reduces the payment from the claim on the first crop and affects crop history, which could in turn impact government payments and insurance payments for crop losses in future years, Lierer said.
“I think almost everybody is going to be taking some,” said Brian Harbage, a Clark County farmer.
Harbage had 90 percent of his corn planted Monday, but he knows others nearby who haven’t gotten in the fields at all. For those farmers who have fields still sitting in water, the prevented planting insurance may be the best route, he said.
But Harbages doesn’t know if he will need to use his prevented planting insurance. He said he’s hoping to get into fields today, but it most likely won’t be enough time to plant the remaining 10 percent of his corn.
If farmers hit June 15, their fields are only likely to produce 40 percent of the normal yield, Custer said.
For many local farmers choices remain in the air, Harbage said. If the rain misses them Wednesday, they may be able to get many acres planted that will be claimed under prevented insurance if the showers hit farmers’ fields.
Others are waiting on details of president Donald Trump’s trade war aid package for farmers. Taking the prevented planting insurance could cost them their federal aid, said Joe Cornelly, spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau.
The only other potential relief is if markets respond to the changing supply of corn, increasing prices for farmers who were able to get their crop in the field.
“If you have a crop to sell it’s great. But if you can’t get a corn crop in and all the sudden the corn prices creep up and you don’t have anything to sell, it doesn’t really work in your favor,” said Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman Ty Higgins.
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