Crop care

A farmer works in his cornfield north of Sinsinawa Mound, Wis., on Wednesday.

Fourth of July has come and gone, but some corn is not yet knee-high.

Crops overall this season are lagging. Still, farmers are glad to see them growing at all after a rough start to the season.

“The crop in general is starting to look a lot better than it had about a month ago,” said Craig Recker, Dubuque County Farm Bureau president.

According to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture crop progress report, released earlier this week, only 1% of Iowa corn is “silking.” The five-year average is 14%.

Seven percent of Iowa soybeans are blooming, compared to a 30% average. Illinois and Wisconsin numbers also lag.

In the tri-state area, county Farm Bureau representatives said commodity farmers are about two weeks behind. All are uncertain about the quality of the coming crop.

“What the rest of the year brings us is what we get,” said Ron Lawfer, Farm Bureau president in Jo Daviess County, Ill.

Consistently wet conditions in April and May caused farmers to finish planting remarkably late. Some had to take a “prevented planting” option with their crop insurance, receiving a percentage of their guarantee for leaving land fallow or planting only a cover crop.

USDA Undersecretary Bill Northey said recently in a press conference there might be more than 10 million acres unplanted nationwide, according to farm news service, The Hagstrom Report.

Doug Yoder, Country Financial crop agency manager, said he would believe it, though the true total will not be known until the USDA completes surveys later this summer.

“I anticipate not only potentially record prevented planting claims, I anticipate significant claims this year just for production losses,” Yoder said of his agency, which serves Illinois.

Tri-state area Farm Bureau representatives said few to no farmers they know personally chose prevented planting.

“We’re hilly enough, we drain pretty decent,” said Josh Bailie, a director of Wisconsin’s Grant County Farm Bureau.

But nearly all area farmers expect below-average yields.

Losses on that front will lead to more “typical” crop insurance claims, Yoder said. Recker said the wet season also will lead to increased drying and storage costs in the fall.

For now, USDA reported corn prices are ahead of where they have been in recent years. Recker said this could increase revenue over last year, even with decreased yield. He and others know prices could change greatly before fall, however.

Lawfer said he thinks corn prices might rise further, as they are based on USDA planting estimates widely criticized as overly high considering the season’s start.

Bailie said soybean prices are a “crapshoot.” A smaller crop this year would more certainly raise prices if it weren’t for the immense supply still in storage from last year.

Soybean prices have been low and wildly unstable in recent months due to trade conflicts with China, though last month the USDA reported an increase in forecast price outlook.

Ultimately, the season is in nature’s hands.

With favorable conditions, yields will still likely be below average, but they might be “decent” considering the season’s start, Recker said.

“If things stay warm and humid like this, they’ll all catch up,” Bailie said.

He said those who prepped the soil well are seeing better results than those with compacted soil, creating “pockets” of good yield.

On the other hand, unfavorable conditions, especially an early frost, could make the situation far worse.

“The later the freeze is this year, the better it’ll be for everybody,” Recker said.

He and others said farmers have reason for hope, as the outlook has greatly improved since May.

“If these prices kind of stay where they’re at or kind of rally a little bit from here, I think farmers will stay pretty positive,” Recker said.

Lawfer pointed to the toll early-season stress took on farmers’ mental health.

“Now that we got the sunshine, we got the heat, we got lots of green stuff in the fields, I think morale has picked up quite a bit,” he said.

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