With Late Planting, Farmers Looking for Options

May 24, 2011 09:19 PM
With Late Planting, Farmers Looking for Options

Wet weather and the calendar are forcing corn and soybean growers in the northern and eastern Corn Belt into tough planting and crop insurance decisions.

In North Dakota, where farmers had intended to increase corn plantings by 450,000 acres over last year, they planted 35% of their corn last week. That raised the total to 49% complete. The progress was fast but late.
“For corn in most of North Dakota, May 25 is the cutoff date for prevented planting,” said Frayne Olson, economist at North Dakota State University. “Some of those acres will shift into soybeans if they can't get planted to corn.”
Indiana farmers planted a fifth of their corn last week, but with 49% in the ground they were still were far behind normal. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania farmers managed to plant only 6% of their corn last week, reaching 40% complete.
Far behind was Ohio, where farmers gained only 4% last week, bringing corn planting to 11% of planned acreage. In the past five years, the average by the same date was 80%.
Adding to the delays, Ohio's weekly crop progress report showed surplus moisture in 86% of Ohio's topsoil, up from 68% a week earlier. During the entire week, about a half day was suitable for fieldwork. More rain fell on parts of Ohio as this week began.
Ohio's most active planting dates normally are April 24 to May 24 for corn and May 3 to May 30 for soybeans.

Sluggish Progress with Soybeans

North Dakota growers had finished 12% of their planting last week, down from about 50% in recent years. Minnesotans raised their planting last week from 9% to 38% complete. But they were still 30 points behind normal. And in muddy Ohio, only 4% of the soybean crop was planted, up just 1 point during the week and far below the average 54%.
Yield prospects are starting to fade as planting continues in Minnesota.
“Now that we're slipping into the last week of May, we're starting to see some yield loss,” said Seth Naeve, agronomist at the University of Minnesota. Producers there tend to plant long-season varieties and try to use as much of the growing season as possible. They will hope for warm days and evenings in fall because soybean plants will start to shut down if nights are cool in early September.

Decision Aid in Ohio

Ohio State University extension educator Chris Bruynis and OSU's Barry Ward, who specializes in production business management, developed a spreadsheet tool called Decision Aid to help growers evaluate their planting options. The spreadsheet was released May 20.
“It addresses the question, 'When does prevented planting pay better than planting?'” said Bruynis. He had heard farmers say that by the time fields dry enough to plant, yield potential will be so low that prevented planting payments from crop insurance will be better than returns from planting.
The Decision Aid spreadsheet uses which uses historic Ohio corn and soybean yield data. Users can plug in their projected yields, harvest prices, variable costs, and insurance details to see their estimated returns based on planting dates.
The delays have hit fertilizer and crop chemical suppliers too.
“It's going to affect agribusinesses in Ohio, just like it's affecting farmers,” said Christopher Henney, president of the Ohio Agribusiness Association. “There is a lot of uncertainty about what will be needed.”
The Ohio Department of Agriculture plans to meet with agriculture groups about the wet spring this week. “We are looking at pulling together some resources to obtain an assessment on the planting season,” said Andy Ware, communications director for the department.

Switching Crops in North Dakota

“In the northern tier of counties, they simply are running out of time” to plant corn, NDSU's Olson said. “If it's not planted, it will not get planted. They can plant sunflowers there and get by.”
West of the Red River Valley, in the Prairie Pothole region, farmers will plant around potholes that are too wet to plant or have standing water. Because of plentiful snow and rainfall in the past two seasons, some roads washed out and farmers struggle to reach fields.
Olson expects North Dakota corn plantings to increase from 2010, but said the intentions to add 450,000 acres of corn are out of reach.
“Odds of getting all those corn acres planted is near zero,” said Olson. “Physically, we can't do that.”
Prevented planting payments are one option, but other crops offer alternatives. Wheat, soybeans, and corn, in that order, are the state's three major crops, but many farmers will consider options including sunflowers, pulses, field peas, lentils, and dry edible beans.
Amid the scramble to plant, Olson reminds growers to update their marketing plans.
“I recommend that as you flip acres (to different crops), think about how much of your crop you have forward contracted and what to do with the remaining production,” said Olson. “If you contracted more than you will produce, be sure to get into the company you are dealing with as soon as possible. There are ways to gt out of those contracts. Some may not be very cheap. But waiting is not going to help the situation.”


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