Tough decisions ahead for farmers
WILLMAR — Farmers who can't plant their crops this spring because of excessive rain and muddy fields spent Wednesday afternoon in Willmar listening to a crop consultant talk about how bad yields could be for late-planted crops.
Then they heard an insurance consultant talk about the financial pros and cons of not planting crops and instead utilizing a crop insurance option called prevented planting.
It is crunch time for farmers to make a decision.
The insurance deadline for planting corn is Friday and June 10 for soybeans.
It's a given that many Minnesota farmers will not meet the Friday deadline for planting corn.
According to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture crop report, 66 percent of the corn had been planted in Minnesota by the end of last week and 35 percent of soybeans had been planted. Both crops are about two weeks behind the average.
"A lot of guys aren't able to get in very easily," said Jamie Vanderweyst, executive director of the Farm Service Agency for Kandiyohi and Meeker counties, during an interview with the West Central Tribune. "It's been one of the more complicated years."
As soon as fields are nearly dry enough for planting "it rains again," she said. "We're significantly wet and significantly behind planting so far."
The corn that has been planted is "starting to pop up" with the warmer weather, but Vanderweyst estimates just 5 to 10 percent of soybean acres have been planted in the two counties so far. Most farmers have not planted any soybeans yet.
With no rain in the forecast for the next few days, farmers may be able to get into the fields, but there are high-dollar risks to investing in planting seeds so late in the season when statistics show there will be a reduction in yields.
After telling the roomful of farmers Wednesday at the American Legion in Willmar that corn planted after Friday could see a yield decrease of about 15 percent, Ken Franzky said there would be "tough decisions" ahead for them to make.
Franzky, an agronomy service manager and certified crop adviser with Centrol Crop Consulting in Marshall, said corn planted after June 9 could see a yield reduction of 25 percent and there's the risk that an early frost could cause even greater harm.
"It could get worse," Franzky said. "This is not real fun news."
There's more time for soybeans, which are usually planted after corn. Franzky said soybeans planted after the insurance deadline of June 10 will see yield reductions, and by June 20 "we're falling off the cliff."
Franzky walked the farmers through scenarios of planting a short-season variety of corn or abandoning corn and planting just soybeans.
That could be a financial risk because corn prices are now starting to inch up because of concern of a shortage, and soybean prices are dismal as a result of the trade war with China.
The hot topic is prevented planting, which is an insurance safety net that pays farmers for acres that cannot be planted because of an insured loss — like excessive rain and muddy fields.
Those payments don't come close to matching the income farmers would realize by harvesting a full crop, but it could at least help cover costs like the mortgage on the farm.
Franzky said the prevented planting coverage is a safety net and farmers should feel "no shame" in choosing that option. "You're not going to be alone," he said.
Brad Jacobson, area claims supervisor for Diversified Crop Insurance, told the group he expects many farmers will use prevented planting and that crop adjusters "will be overwhelmed" with claims.
Vanderweyst expects the same for staff at county FSA offices.
"I don't have an estimate, but I'm expecting a high number," she told the Tribune. "Guys want to plant, but I don't know if we're going to get it according to the weather."
Vanderweyst said county offices have done what they can to prepare for the increased workload by printing farm field maps. She advises farmers to make an appointment with their FSA office as soon as they have filed a claim with their insurance adjuster so the paperwork can be processed efficiently.
"We've got to push a lot of producers through in the next few weeks," Vanderweyst said.
Farmers who do not plant their crops will be required to control noxious weeds on the bare fields, she said.
Franzky urged farmers not to leave fields bare but to instead plant a cover crop that could help reduce excessive moisture, reduce erosion and improve the soil for 2020. But he said those benefits need to be weighed against factors like the cost of and ability to plant a cover crop.
He said some county FSA offices may require a cover crop to be planted.
The stress of the weather, the inability to get into the fields, the trade war and decisions about prevented planting was ratcheted up with the recent announcement by the Trump administration of a $16 billion farm aid package to offset the impact of the trade war.
That bailout could impact a farmer's decision of what to do this spring. The problem is there are no details available yet.
"We're waiting for more information on that," Vanderweyst said. "We don't have any idea on the details of the program."
Franzky cautioned farmers not to listen to the "noise" of market speculation or the bailout and to make decisions that are best for their situation.
"In six months we'll know what the better decision is," he said.