Editorial: Weather wreaks havoc on Indiana farmers

By the beginning of June the nation had experienced the wettest 12-month period in recorded history with rainfall more than six inches above average. And farmers across the country were taking a hit.

A June 15 News-Sentinel.com editorial reported an average of 36.2 inches of rain fell on the lower 48 states during that period, surpassing 36 inches in a 12-month span for the first time in more than 120 years of keeping records.

Farmers were saying they had the longest delay in planting this spring they’ve ever seen and were still waiting for the fields to dry out enough to get to work. Eventually, they got out in the fields and planted what they could — some things dangerously late in the season.

Purdue University agriculture professor Michael Langemeier said at the time that planting corn after early June was a risk. Corn needs to be planted earlier than soybeans to reach maturity before fall frosts end the growing season. A Purdue analysis showed corn planted after June 10 could have a 20 percent lower yield.

And, sure enough, agriculture economist Chris Hurt, a Purdue professor, Monday projected a nearly 20 percent drop in revenue for Indiana’s corn and soybean crops this year. Hurt was among agricultural experts from Purdue at the Indiana State Fair Monday who said Indiana farmers face a risk that late-planted corn and soybeans won’t mature before the fall freeze.

Hurt said in an Associated Press story that the endless spring rainfall, followed by a long summer dry spell and the ongoing U.S. trade fight with China, could lead to a $1.3 billion drop in revenue for Indiana’s corn and soybean crops from last year’s $6.8 billion.

Hurt told Eric Pfeiffer of hoosieragtoday.com on Monday corn prices for the 2019 U.S. crop would likely be the same as last year’s at $3.60 per bushel — “No change in price.” He predicted, likewise, that the 2019 price for soybeans would be no better than the 2018 price as well — $8.50 per bushel.

“So, it’s going to be very discouraging to our Indiana farmers,” Hurt said, “who think they have, and many will have, lower yields and to have basically no help from the price side.”

Numbers released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the seriousness of the situation — the weather has made this year the worst planting season on record.

Heavy rainfall and flooding contributed to keeping more than 19.4 million acres of crops from being planted across the U.S., according to a synopsis of the USDA report in the South Bend Tribune, including a decline in corn, soybeans and wheat in the Midwest.

The USDA reported those 19.4 million acres were an increase of nearly 17.5 million prevented plant acres from this time last year and the highest number reported since the USDA began releasing the report in 2007.

The Tribune reported that Indiana farmers were prevented from planting more than 945,071 acres that normally would be planted with crops, including 708,746 acres of corn and 231,161 acres of soybeans.

“Agricultural producers across the country are facing significant challenges and tough decisions on their farms and ranches,” USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said in a news release. “We know these are challenging times for farmers, and we have worked to improve flexibility of our programs to assist producers prevented from planting.”

That’s good, if it’s true, because our Indiana farmers need all the help they can get.