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Record floods hit many parts of Nebraska and Iowa after a "bomb cyclone" storm. Photo taken March 19, 2019. (Michelle Rook/Agweek)

Farmers in wet areas agonize over planting decisions

WEST POINT, Neb. — As farmers in many parts of the Midwest continue to struggle with planting and planting decisions, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue put out a statement on June 10 that confused matters even more.

Perdue and other U.S. Department of Agriculture officials previously had announced that another Market Facilitation Program would be coming that would provide a per-acre payment for growers of certain crops. The stipulation required in law was that only planted acres would be eligible, not acres in prevented planting.

Perdue's June 10 statement, though, indicated his department is considering ways to extend payments to producers who have had to take prevented planting.

"However, we are exploring legal flexibilities to provide a minimal per acre market facilitation payment to folks who filed prevent plant and chose to plant an MFP-eligible cover crop, with the potential to be harvested and for subsequent use of those cover crops for forage," his statement said.

But Linda Shada, a crop insurance agent at Connealy Insurance in West Point, Neb., says possibilities aren't the best way to make decisions, and growers need to go off the best information available.

"They just need to talk to their crop insurance agent and go through the options that are there," she says. "And there's a lot of stuff on the news about different possibilities with the new legislation. But you can't make your decision based on possibilities."

Shada has talked to many farmers this year who have taken or likely will end up taking prevented planting on acres they intended to put into corn or soybeans.

"We have quite a few growers on ground within about five miles of the Missouri River who are having to take prevented plant for the first time in their lives," she says. "I have farmers who have come in who are third-generation farmers who have never seen this ground not planted."

Shada explains the situation started with the March "bomb cyclone" storm that wreaked havoc on Nebraska, causing widespread flooding. But some of the ground doesn't have water running over it and instead is saturated from groundwater coming up.

"It's fields that are miles away from the river that have groundwater coming up and just standing," she says. "And there's no drainage that can take that away."

Now, with the dam releases for snowmelt coming down the Missouri, there is little chance for the land to dry out in time for planting.

Much of the land was intended for corn, but many farmers have intended to switch acres to soybeans as the weather and flooding disturbances continued. The last day for late soybean planting in Nebraska is July 5. But Shada says the soil along the river is so heavy that planting after June 20 is unrealistic.

Shada has clients from Sioux City to Omaha, and while there are "pockets" of places without problems and high ground where planting was possible, she has never seen such widespread problems in 18 years as a crop insurance agent.

"It's the same all along the river," she says. "It goes in for several miles."

Whether or not farmers can expect prevented planting or Market Facilitation Program payments, Shada says the decision not to plant a crop is devastating for farmers. Her clients, she says, are hard-working people, willing to put in the time and effort to plant a crop. But the soil won't allow it.

"They're not looking at the payments," she says. "They're looking at, this is my farm and I can't get it planted."