“It’s kind of nice to have an old-fashioned spring,’’ said the farmer who talked for a few minutes while we filled our cars with gasoline. “Now, if the summer cooperates …’’
It didn’t do that frequently in 2019, when heavy rains delayed soybean planting into June and the deluges that followed created mini-lakes in low areas. However, he and others around here haven’t ever suffered a complete crop failure. Although, the drought of the late 1980s and the June frost in the early 1990s came close.
The drought withered crops and plunged yields to rock bottom. The widespread June frost was especially cruel because no one suspected it. The weather forecasters made mention of a remote chance of frost, but farmers spent the day cultivating one final time before corn got too tall and soybeans had canopied.
The frost hit freshly cultivated fields the worst. In the immediate days after the killer frost the air was filled with the aroma of silage, emitted from dying corn. It didn’t turn out to be a year without summer but yields and test weights were down, and crop insurance adjusters were kept busy.
History speaks of a crushing year without summer, which was a worldwide disaster in 1816. The spring of that year was normal until summer came and brought with it constantly overcast skies and crushing cold. Crops were dismal worldwide, which led to widespread food shortages in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
The cause, which scientists did not discover until decades later, was the 1815 volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora, which is located on an isolated island in the Indian Ocean. The initial eruption killed more than 80,000 and filled the atmosphere with choking ash.
While the catastrophe ruined summer in 1816, the massive eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state on July 10, 1980, had little impact on U.S. weather.
While the weather is, for the most part, cooperating this spring, markets have not.
Corn for June delivery was priced at $2.73 per bushel and soybeans at $7.97 on a local elevator board. Against that backdrop and additional problems in livestock and dairy, it’s understandable why President Donald Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently announced a $19 billion stimulus package for farmers.
“The program will include direct payments to farmers as well as mass purchases of dairy, meat and agricultural produce, to get that food to the people in need,’’ the president said when he announced the effort at the White House.
Perdue added that the checks should be in farmers’ hands by the end of May. Senators working with the White House say the money will mostly go to hog, beef and dairy producers.
The new stimulus has left some — including National Pork Producer Council President Howard Roth disappointed. He complained that the money wasn’t enough to reimburse hog producers for their losses. Complaints also came from the Renewable Fuels Association, whose members weren’t included in the package.
Perdue said the reason the stimulus comes up short in the eyes of some is because Congress didn’t provide enough money.
Meanwhile some U.S. senators — including North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer and Jon Hoeven, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, and South Dakota’s Mike Rounds — want a USDA investigation into why beef prices received by farmers are falling while consumer demand for meat is escalating. Grassley hinted that meatpackers may be gouging farmers and consumers.
With so much controversy and uncertainty about the summer ahead, it’s reassuring to see corn rows emerge and small grain fields grow taller. Sunshine and timely rain will once again reward farmers for their labor.
The farmer, with a cup of coffee in hand, will spend time checking on his corn stands. The stimulus and controversy are likely to be far from his mind as he does so.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.