The (not-so-)Perfect Storm

May 20, 2019 1:22 pm

Water, Water, Everywhere…And too many drops to drink…

You know that awkward moment in a social mixer when someone has nothing more interesting to talk about than the weather?  Imagine being a farmer when that IS the most important topic of conversation for your business.  That’s this spring.

So water.  All living creatures need it to survive and thrive.  Our #awesomepopcorn is no exception, nor is the corn or soybean crops that are also on our #familyfarm.  That’s obvious.  What may also be obvious is that too much water is not good either.  There’s an old adage that “Rain Makes Grain.”  True…but only if the grain could get planted!

Our farm is near a small city that is otherwise surrounded by corn and bean fields.  It is not uncommon for folks to at least know a farmer.  Still, we’ve gotten lots of questions from folks at church and in area businesses.  It’s depressing that we have made so many “errands” into town to occupy our time waiting for fields to dehydrate that the weather and rain—the very things we do NOT want to think about—are just the items townsfolk want to ask us farmers about!

So how wet is it?

As of May 12th, USDA estimated that 30% of the US corn crop was planted.  The 5-year average is 66%.  In our home state of Illinois, we are only 11% finished with corn but are normally 82%.  I don’t know how to type the emoji I see on my phone with the smiley face’s head exploding, but I think the numbers may have the same effect for you.

Soybean planting tells a similar tale.  The US is 9% planted versus a 5-year average of 29%.  Illinois was 61% finished at this time last year compared to only 3% as of May 12th.

It’s not just the rain that’s slowing things down though.  It’s the cooler temperatures.  It wasn’t until this past Thursday that we had a genuinely hot day.  It was 89 degrees with an 18mph sustained wind.  This was the day I finally confirmed Old Man Winter died…kicking and screaming and holding on for a 10 month winter no less!

We actually consider ourselves pretty fortunate.  We are 85% done with soybeans and 25% done with corn.  Our soybeans were planted the week just after Easter Sunday…and sat in soggy soil with little heat and sunlight for three weeks.  Let me tell you what annoying chronic stress on the farm is: It’s when you drive by a planted field everyday for three weeks looking at bare earth instead of sprouting green crops.

So it’s pretty bad this spring for Midwestern farmers of all types.  But the not-so-perfect storm is more than Mother Nature’s seemingly cruel vengeance.  It’s the market itself.  Trump’s trade war is hurting exports.  We’ve had lots of excellent crops as a country, so we have a large supply of corn and sobyeans…which means they’re not worth much.  40% lower than the highs of seven years ago to be exact.  Then you add to it we have competitors in the global market, specifically in South America, who are also starting to get pretty good at growing corn and soybeans.

You begin to see why this spring is turning into a real albatross for farmers everywhere.

Here’s a video I edited to describe how we farmers collectively are feeling this planting season.  As a Knucklehead myself (i.e. Three Stooges Fan), I think my late father would’ve been proud that I could find some humor in an otherwise bleak situation.  God truly is good—he gave man humor to laugh in the face of stupid!

Let’s be honest.  We are blessed.  My family has invested in field tile over the generations—our fields aren’t drowning out like many from Ohio to Nebraska and Minnesota to Arkansas.  And we have more in the ground than many too.  We have a good chance to get excellent yields.  The silver lining is that we were going to plant late anyway in our first year of organic corn and the popcorn does better with later planting too.  So it isn’t all bad.

Still, misery loves company and it is healthy (to a point) to have “venting” sessions with neighboring farmers.  Perhaps that’s another blessing in disguise where we get to see and spend time with neighbors when the most we normally get this time of year is a sm  ile and wave passing each other on the road to the next field.