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‘This has everyone scratching their heads’: US farmers discuss prices, yield, the USDA, and more

By John Roach, AccuWeather staff writer
July 19, 2019, 4:38:03 PM EDT

Farmer corn crop

In this May 29, 2019 photo, Jeff Jorgenson examines young corn plants on a partially flooded field he farms near Shenandoah, Iowa. About a quarter of his land was lost this year to Missouri River flooding, and much of his remaining property has been inundated with heavy rain and water from the neighboring Nishnabotna River. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The 2019 season has been one to remember for U.S. farmers. Or is it one to forget?

The prolonged rain and flooding to start the planting season meant many farmers didn’t get their crops into the ground until mid- to late June. When final numbers are tallied, it’s possible a record number of acres went unplanted.

Now, farmers wait and wonder: “Our biggest concern at this point is whether the crop will finish,” Nebraska farmer Edwin Brummels wrote in an email to AccuWeather.

AccuWeather contacted a number of farmers around the country to get their views of the season, what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reporting, crop prices and more.

The rainy start, of course, set the course for the season. “This year has been unbelievably wet,” Ohio farmer Fred Traver wrote to AccuWeather. “This year, we just kept waiting for that rain to miss us and it never did until mid-June.”

That was the case for much of the Corn Belt, which was reflected in the numbers reported by the USDA. By mid-May, just 30% of corn had been planted in the 18 top corn-producing states when the five-year average for that point was 66%.

Flooding and the persistent rain never let farmers catch up. Then, once corn and soybeans had been planted, the late start was reflected in low USDA ratings for the condition of the two crops

The condition of corn and soybeans considered “good” or “excellent” has been 60% or lower now for five straight weeks, according to the USDA. The latest report had the condition of corn at 58% good to excellent and the condition of soybeans at 53%. Last year at this time, corn was at 72% and soybeans were 69%.

“We had to replant the corn on June 29,” Pennsylvania farmer Bill Baker wrote to AccuWeather. “We just pray that we have a late fall, no frost and we should be able at least to get corn silage for feed with good yield.”

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“I live in Ottawa County [Ohio] and I read the Farm Service Agency (FSA) reported that as of June 16, there was less than 700 acres of corn planted in the county, and on average there is normally 16,000 acres,” Traver wrote. “The latest USDA report has planted corn acres at 92 million [nationally], 3 million more than last year.

“This has everyone scratching their heads,” he added. “The best guess by analysts and farm organizations is that [estimate] includes acres reported to the USDA/FSA as prevented planting corn and is not the actual planted acres…. Hopefully, that will be separated from the actual planted acres sometime in the near future.”

The silver lining for farmers: “The ones who were able to plant will do alright because they’ll be happy to see the price of corn go up,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Jason Nicholls. “It’s possible by the end of the summer that instead of the corn being priced at $4.30 or $4.40 per bushel as it is now, it might be closer to $5. I think that’s going to be good for the farmers.”

Favorable weather the rest of the way could salvage things for U.S. farmers. “We will need good weather in late August and September to achieve normal yields,” Brummels wrote to AccuWeather.

“This year is unlike any other, and depending on how the year turns out, we may find out that it is possible to still have a decent yield even though we started so late,” Traver wrote. “A lot of decisions that were made this year would not have been made in a normal year, but this gives us a chance to see how the crops are affected by these decisions.”

“Every year is different,” Nebraska farmer Justin Mensik wrote to AccuWeather, “and every year we learn things to try and improve in the future. But in the end, Mother Nature has the final say.”

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