A “Perfect Storm” for area farmers

In most cases if you work hard enough and do things the right way you will receive a reward. Most years our farmers would agree, but this year has been no ordinary year.

 Our farmers did their homework last winter locked in their land, selected their seed varieties, their fertilizers, and worked with area lenders on how to pay for them. They went through each piece of machinery to make sure it was in good working order and had adequate supplies of fuel in place to kick off the planting season. Then came the rain…

An old saying is that rain makes grain, but that is definitely not the case when the seed hasn’t made it into the ground. In fact, most area farmers were working night and day to get their corn and beans planted by the required dates in June for crop insurance eligibility. That being the case, most farmers knew that the odds were against them when it comes to yield. In fact, a University of Illinois study found that on average, corn and beans planted after May face a 29 bushel and 14 bushel loss respectively. Strike 1.

And the rain just kept coming, June and July together added 6 to 11 more inches of rain than our area’s 5 year average. To the farmer the problem was twofold. First and foremost low spots were once again flooded out without any hope of a re-plant, and second, farmers struggled and in some cases failed to apply needed fertilizer and crop protectants during a critical period of crop growth. Strike 2.

Then the faucet shut off. Late summer rains are sometimes referred to as million dollar rains in the agriculture world. It’s the time of year when the plants are putting the majority of their energy into their seeds that farmers will harvest. Unfortunately, we closed out August and September rainfall totals 4 to 6 inches below average. Soybeans died prematurely and the beans that were produced where typically smaller and in some cases too dry. Corn also suffered during this time frame and yields are coming in way below last year’s reports. To add to the challenges, rain came back in a big way in October to dampen harvest activities. Field loss (yield and quality) will continue to increase as harvest drags on into November. Strike 3

Will area farmers receive a financial reward for their hard work and doing things right? Probably not. Yields and price will likely keep them from breaking even. In some case crop insurance will kick in to provide some relief, but it has never been about profitability. A grain farmer in our area will typically spend $8 to try to make $10. Crop insurance usually kicks in at 80%, so that means that the farmers will probably have just enough to pay their farming bills and nothing for themselves or their families. Most will pull from their reserves or borrow from their assets to make ends meet.

In a game you’re most likely out after strike three, but in farming you just keep your chin up and keep going. Yes, I hear their frustrations, but I also hear their optimism. To quote them in general “We will wrap up this year and put it behind us, then we will focus on the next one”.

Dan Volkers, McHenry County Farm Bureau Manager