Outlook for 2020 crop season optimistic but farmers indecisive

Farmers are making plans for the 2020 crop season and after a disastrous year in 2019 they’re trying to remain optimistic.

Farmers attending the Sioux Falls Farm Show are looking to 2020 with optimism but are still holding back on purchases with the weather uncertainty and crop still in the field. (Michelle Rook / Agweek)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Farmers are making plans for the 2020 crop season and after a disastrous year in 2019 they’re trying to remain optimistic. The attitude of farmers attending the Sioux Falls Farm Show was better than a year ago, due in part to action on trade deals like the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and China.

South Dakota Soybean Association President Jeff Thompson says he hopes the progress will give farmers more confidence to plant soybeans. “It’s pretty important that we got the phase one deal signed,” he says. “It gives us some options going forward that hopefully can be fulfilled.”

Gregory, S.D., farmer Lee Lubbers says he’s also positive about 2020 because their costs are lower going into the new crop season. He says the price of various fertilizer products has dropped and they’re also getting some good deals on other cropping staples.

“On input prices, we’ve been sourcing a lot of things and working with our key suppliers and we’ve got really good numbers and we’ve got really good numbers to work with on our cash flows,” Lubbers says.

Yet farmers would normally have most of their crop plans completed and products such as seed already purchased. However, this year they are a bit indecisive because they’re not sure if Mother Nature will be more cooperative.


Keith Mockler with Dekalb/Asgrow says farmers they worked with at the farm show are concerned about repeat prevented plant acres after a record 4 million plus in South Dakota in 2019. “There’s probably more indecision on how many acres am I going to get planted, what crop am I going to put on my prevent plant acres and the whole soybean thing in the $8 range just doesn’t work for a lot of guys,” Mockler says.

He says a lot of farmers are also putting together a backup plan they didn’t have in previous seasons.

Sara Bauder, South Dakota State University Extension agronomy field specialist, agrees that farmers are more indecisive this year. “I would say there’s a lot of producers that are just up in the air, especially on seed purchases,” Bauder says. “Maybe they’ll buy 50%, maybe they won’t do any or they’re concerned about the maturity and they don’t want to have to switch groups, you know, as they have in the past.”

Corn and other crops still in the field is clouding the outlook for 2020 planting. (Michelle Rook / Agweek)

Farmers also have some concern about how to bring prevented planting acres back into production because of problems associated with fallow syndrome and the lack of weed control on those fields.

“Last year, there was a lot of fields that producers just couldn’t get into, they didn’t get good weed control taken care of and they’re looking at this next year, you know, ‘How can I best handle that?’” Bauder says.

Tony Lenz with Stine Seed says it may take years to combat the weeds in those unplanted acres. “We had a lot of weeds that got established out there and some growers got in and worked the ground maybe too late and we had a lot of weed seed that is built up for this next year,” he says.


Many agronomists suggest pre-emergent herbicides as part of a weed control plan in prevented planting fields, but with corn still in the field and saturated soils, that may dictate a post emergent regime.

“Figuring out your chemical program is going to be a big one you know because we had so many prevent plant acres with a lot of pretty nasty weed escapes,” Thompson says.

Mockler says farmers will have a narrow window for planting, so having a plan is important. “We’ve spent a tremendous amount of time putting weed control plans together for those prevent plant acres that got heavily seeded down with water hemp seed, mares tail and what have you,” he says. “Many of those involve a two-pass post-emergent program.”

With the inability to predict the spring weather and tough economics, farmers are delaying seed purchases or buying only a small percentage of their needs. “Some of our seed decisions are being pushed back more into the spring because farmers may have to let some acres go that they can’t afford to rent,” Lenz says. He says that is being reflected in their sales.

Acreage is still a big question mark as well. While USDA is predicting about 94 million acres of corn nationally in 2020, it may be difficult to hit that mark with the amount of unharvested crop and saturated fields in the Dakotas and Minnesota.

“No I don’t think we’re going to get record acres in the far western Corn Belt just because of how wet it is,” Mockler says. “But I do think we have an opportunity to plant a lot more corn in this area than we did last year.”

Many private firms are also estimating soybean acreage at more than 10 million acres above 2019. However, Mother Nature will have the final say.


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