Rains create ‘real challenging year’ for farmers

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Dan Buechler of St. Anthony uses a backhoe to fix a culvert that was partially washed away by the recent heavy rains in a cornfield that he farms in St. Anthony on Friday. Due to the consistently wet weather this season, this cornfield was the last he was able to plant, finishing in early June.


Rains have flooded fields across Dubois County the past few weeks, ravaging farmers and possibly plummeting crop yields.

“[The rains] have devastated them,” farmer Alan Small said of his crops. “It’s completely wiped them out over in the bottomland.”

On his Ireland farm, Small grows corn and soybeans and had planted nearly all of his crops before the rains hit in recent weeks. He expects the crop yields — or the amount of agricultural production harvested per acre — to be down this year.

There is nothing he can do to protect his crops from the heavy rains, Small said, and with the corn-planting window closed, he is focused on soybean planting.

“It’s too late to plant more corn,” he said. “It will depend on the weather if I can plant more beans.”

Ninety-five percent of corn was planted at the beginning of this week, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, up from 91% last week. The five-year average is 100%. The report shows 88% of soybeans were planted at the beginning of this week, up from 75% last week.

The USDA also reported that 61% of corn and 63% of soybeans in Indiana are in very poor to fair condition.

Water sits in a damaged cornfield farmed by Dan Buechler in St. Anthony on Friday. Buechler said that usually the whole field would be as high as the corn rows on the right by this point in the season.

Rain pushed soil moisture levels up, exceeding that of previous years and the five-year average. While warmer weather allowed farmers to make more progress last week, they are still well behind schedule. Crops for this year are expected to be ready for harvest in late September or early October, putting them nearly a month behind.

A recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information shows May 2018 to April 2019 was the wettest 12-month period in U.S. history.

Parts of Dubois County saw more than 10 inches of rain last month. The county averages 48 inches of rainfall each year.

“This year has been one of the worst on record,” said Dan Buechler, who farms in St. Anthony. “Its been hard to get anything done because of the weather.”

Buechler estimates about 40% of his crops — corn and soybeans — have been damaged because of the flooding. He said he has crop insurance, which will help cover any loses on his crop yields. Crop damage is any reduction in the quality or quantity of crop yields resulting from injuries such as flooding or insects.

Buechler, a third-generation farmer, has been farming since 1978. The last time he remembers the weather being this bad for farming was in 2012, when a drought hit most of the Midwest. He doesn’t remember the weather being so wet for this long.

Water sits in a damaged cornfield farmed by Dan Buechler in St. Anthony on Friday.

The last day to receive insurance on planted corn was June 5 and June 20 for soybeans. For farmers who have yet to plant their corn and soybeans, crop insurance won’t help them unless they have prevented planting insurance.

Some insurance agencies offer a prevented planting insurance provision in which a payment is made to farmers to compensate for the pre-planting costs incurred in the preparation for planting the crop. The payment is a percentage of the insurance guarantee the producer would have had for a timely planted crop.

“I feel the yields are gonna be reduced fairly significantly,” Buechler said. “It’s hard to predict at this point. It all depends on the weather for the remainder of the growing season. Hopefully everything works out.”

Bob Nielsen, a Purdue Extension corn specialist and professor of agronomy, said there are still hopes that the remainder of the season will bring good yields, but it largely depends on the weather.

“If we continue like this, I expect the yields to be lower than normal,” he said. “There are clearly a lot of acres yet to be planted across the state. I doubt much progress can be made with more rainfall expected over the next few weeks.”

Nielsen said this year differs from past heavy rainfall seasons because of how widespread the effects are across the state and the acres of land that remain flooded.

Despite increased production costs, Nielsen expects price hikes on major crops like corn and soybeans to be minimal due to the cost of the raw products making up only a small percentage of what goes into the final price shoppers pay compared to transportation and packaging costs.

Most of the corn grown in Indiana goes into feeding livestock, such as cows, pigs and chickens according to the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, which means higher prices for livestock farmers who need to feed their cattle.

The largest economic impact of lower yields, Nielsen said, is higher gas prices. A third of Indiana’s corn is converted into ethanol, the main ingredient of which is corn. Ninety-seven percent of all unleaded gas in the U.S. uses about 10% of ethanol.

“It’s been a real challenging year,” Nielsen said.

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