Drenched: Wet conditions in the Wabash Valley have delayed some farmer’s planting plans.  Tribune-Star/Austen Leake
Drenched: Wet conditions in the Wabash Valley have delayed some farmer’s planting plans. Tribune-Star/Austen Leake
Some area farmers say they are considering not planting any corn or soybeans this year to avoid potentially big losses, as unrelenting wet weather continues to keep growers out of the fields for what will soon be a month past the average planting date.

Kent Chism, a lifelong farmer in western Howard County who serves on the Howard County Farm Bureau board, said Tuesday this is the latest planting he’s ever seen.

“We’ve never been this late before,” he said. “It’s never been the case where we didn’t have anything planted until June.”

And with rain in the forecast nearly every day this week, it could be well into next month before any crops are planted. Chism said with so much rain, it will take about a full week for the ground to dry out.

“It’s going to take a while, and even then we still may have wet patches we have to work around, but that’s probably just the way it’s going to work this year,” he said.

That has some farmers mulling whether it’s even worth planting anything this year – especially corn, which requires a longer growing season than soybeans and needs to be planted earlier.

Ken Shrock, a 65-year-old farmer who owns about 300 acres of land near Bunker Hill, said he’s seriously considering forgoing any planting to avoid losing money this season.

“It’s just throwing good money after bad,” he said. “You’re going to have a bad yield and terrible prices, so what’s the use? Unless you’ve got good crop insurance, you’re in trouble.”

An analysis by Purdue University shows that corn planted on June 10 could have a 20% lower yield that would end up putting farms in the red when the harvest rolls around.

Farmers who do have crop insurance also are considering not planting and simply taking a reduced insurance payment in order to make any money this year.

On June 5, farmers with federal crop insurance who haven’t planted any corn can take a payment that hands out 55% of the guaranteed corn revenue price set by insurance plan. The Purdue analysis estimated that payment would be around $375 per acre.

Mathias Ingle, a Howard County extension educator, said farmers would prefer to plant corn this year since soybeans prices continue to hit new lows during President Donald Trump’s ongoing trade war with China.

But with an elusive planting season, some farmers are considering taking the reduced insurance payout as a last-ditch plan to turn a profit.

“If they cross that point of no return, they’ll either have to plant soybeans or in extreme circumstances, collect the insurance money,” Ingle said.

Chism said farmers who take the payment will hardly break even once the cost of maintaining the property is taken into consideration, but that won’t stop some growers who worry it’s too late to plant corn.

“As time goes on, and the further out we get into this, the more likely it is that some farmers are going to take the insurance,” he said.

But Chism is holding out. He said he still plans to plant corn and hope for the best.

“You’re always nervous, but we’re not in control of the weather, so you just have to roll with it,” Chism said. “Mother Nature has a way of evening things out. I’m still optimistic that potentially could happen, and that’ll we’ll have something.”

Bob Nielsen, a professor of agronomy at Purdue, agreed there is some hope. He said even with a historically late corn planting, a perfect growing season the rest of the year could result in somewhat normal yields.

“The planting date is just one of many things that dictate yields on corn,” Nielsen said. “It’s really a question of what’s going to happen the remainder of the season that will determine the actual yields.”

But that isn’t enough to convince Bunker Hill farmer Shrock, who doesn’t have crop insurance, to plant corn or soybeans this year. He said he’d rather eat his losses now than take a chance with even bigger losses in the event of a terrible harvest.

“If there’s going to be some government payments, I’ll have to go out and find them,” he said. “If not, it’s looking pretty bleak … No money, no business. It will make it a little tougher to get the bills paid this year.”
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