clearn.png
Thursday April 2nd, 2020 12:30AM

Soggy fields leave Midwestern farmers with few good answers

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Between the country's trade dispute with China and the seemingly endless storms that have drenched the central U.S., Iowa farmer Robb Ewoldt has had plenty of time to think about whether it's too late to plant this season, how much federal aid he might get if he does or whether to skip it altogether and opt for an insurance payment.

Instead of driving his tractor, he's driving a truck these days to earn a living while wondering how long it will be before he can return to his fields.

"Sometimes I think, what the heck am I doing farming?" he said recently by phone while returning home after hauling a shipment of dry ice to Chicago. "When you owe the bank money, you do some pretty crazy stuff."

Ewoldt is one of thousands of Midwestern farmers facing such decisions as they endure a spring like no other. It started with poor corn and soybean prices falling even further as the U.S. and China imposed new tariffs, and was compounded by torrential rain and flooding that has made planting impossible and killed off crops that were just starting to emerge.

Conscious that the trade dispute was devastating American farmers, President Donald Trump promised $16 billion in aid — an increase over last year's $11 billion in aid — but the promise has only added to farmers' confusion about how to approach this strange spring.

That's because details about how much money farmers would receive won't be released until later, to avoid influencing what crops they decide to plant. While there's a rationale behind keeping the aid details secret, it adds another layer of uncertainty for farmers already guessing about the weather, future crop prices and how much they would get in insurance payments if they don't plant a crop.

"It's a take what you can get and keep moving year," said Todd Hubbs, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois. "Depending on how the payments and everything break out, each farm is different."

In the 18 states that grow most of the nation's corn, only 58% of the crop had been planted as of last week — a far cry from the 90% that would ordinarily be planted by that point. In states that grow nearly all of the soybeans, less than half of the normal crop had been planted. Farmers have even taken to Twitter — creating a #noplant19 hashtag — to commiserate and share photos of their swamped fields.

For Jeff Jorgenson, it's an all-consuming question of how much of his roughly 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) of southwestern Iowa land he can profitably farm. About a quarter of it can't be farmed due to Missouri River flooding, and much of his remaining property has been inundated with rain and water from the neighboring Nishnabotna River.

Navigating muddy roads in his pickup truck this week, he tried to figure out whether it would be worth pumping water off his land or whether that would even be possible. Normally it wouldn't be worth the effort, but with the prospect that the Midwest's miserable weather will reduce the nation's fall harvest, corn and soybean prices have started to rise and planting every acre possible has become more attractive than settling for insurance that would pay roughly half the revenue of a normal crop.

Jorgenson, 44, said it's a puzzle trying to figure out how much land should remain unplanted and eligible for insurance payments, how much should be planted, how much money in federal aid will be available and whether those funding sources will be enough to cover his operating loan.

"Honestly, 24 hours a day, this is all you can think about," he said.

Since Bob Worth started farming in 1970, this is the first year he's opted not to plant on most of his 2,300 acres (931 hectares) near the southwestern Minnesota community of Lake Benton. It was a difficult choice, but one Worth said he felt obligated to make given the ducks that are swimming where his corn and soybeans should be growing.

"I'm not going to try to destroy my ground to get a crop in," he said, noting that planting equipment would rut and compact his land.

Despite insurance payments he will receive, Worth, 66, said he'll need to refinance loans and lose some of the equity has built up on land that has been in his family for generations.

The deadline for not planting and taking an insurance payment without a penalty varies depending on the state and crop, but the decision time has either passed or is approaching. Hubbs, the Illinois economist, said choosing to opt out, especially when prices are rising, is agonizing for farmers but may be the right choice because of the risk of a poor harvest when planting late in soggy ground and the possibility that the farmer won't be able to harvest the crop before the weather turns cold.

Hubbs said planting late won't work out for many farmers unless summer and fall weather conditions are nearly perfect — a scenario that he said seems hard to imagine, given that "storms just keep firing up and moving through."

Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University, said he worries that the federal aid Trump announced will encourage some farmers who would normally forgo a crop to instead risk planning on wet land. That's a tough decision for individuals, but collectively it could reduce the supply of corn and soybeans and lead to higher prices.

"We've been stuck in a pattern of overproduction, and this could change that," Hart said.

Ewoldt, who farms on about 1,100 acres (445 hectares) he rents from relatives near the Mississippi River outside Davenport, said he hopes he can figure out what's best for his farm and his family. Ewoldt, 47, said he's good at producing a crop but that figuring out what to do in the coming weeks seems like guesswork.

"You're trying to do the algebra equations and figure things out, but you have too many unknowns right now," he said. "Nobody has a clue what we're doing."

___

Associated Press writer David Pitt contributed to this report.

___

Follow Scott McFetridge on Twitter: https://twitter.com/smcfetridge

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Business, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Agriculture
© Copyright 2020 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Computer finds striking similarities in Chicago cold cases
A computer algorithm has helped reopen dozens of Chicago cold cases by finding similarities in the slayings of more than 50 women
1:33PM ( 4 minutes ago )
Soggy fields leave Midwestern farmers with few good answers
Many Midwestern farmers are facing daunting decisions amid the U.S trade dispute with China and the seemingly endless series of storms that have made planting crops thus far impossible
1:32PM ( 5 minutes ago )
Syrian boy survives bombing that killed his mother, siblings
Syrian activists, volunteers: Government warplanes bomb last rebel stronghold, level building, killing 5 people
1:26PM ( 12 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Illinois warns of possible flooding evacuations
Officials in Illinois are asking residents in river communities to prepare for potential evacuations due to the threat of rising floodwaters
12:48PM ( 49 minutes ago )
The Latest: Sandbagging underway south of St. Louis
Officials in Arkansas say a weakened levee is holding on after workers scrambled to shore it up ahead of Wednesday's downpours
12:42PM ( 56 minutes ago )
The Latest: River begins to recede in northeast Oklahoma
Officials in Arkansas say a weakened levee is holding on after workers scrambled to shore it up ahead of Wednesday's downpours
12:34PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
New Hampshire repeals its death penalty
New Hampshire is the latest state to repeal its death penalty, as the state Senate had enough votes to override Gov. Chris Sununu's veto
11:01AM ( 2 hours ago )
Lawsuit: Mississippi has racist way of choosing governors
A new lawsuit by three African American residents of Mississippi seeks to block what it calls the state's racist method of electing the governor and other statewide officials
11:00AM ( 2 hours ago )
Israel faces repeat 2019 election after parliament dissolves
Israel faces historic second snap election of the year after Netanyahu fails to form governing coalition
10:55AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Computer algorithm helps reopen dozens of Chicago cold cases
A computer algorithm has helped reopen dozens of Chicago cold cases by finding similarities in the slayings of more than 50 women
1:45AM ( 11 hours ago )
Prosecutors push back on enforcing new state abortion laws
New state abortion laws likely to become bogged down in legal challenges face another potential obstacle from prosecutors who refuse to enforce them
1:34AM ( 12 hours ago )
Body believed to be missing Utah girl is found
Police say a body believed to be a missing 5-year-old Utah girl was found less than a block from her home
10:33PM ( 15 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Suspect in Lyon explosion claims ties to Islamic State group
A man arrested for a bombing outside a Lyon bakery that injured 13 people has told investigators that he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group
12:38PM ( 59 minutes ago )
US stocks give up some of their early gains on Wall Street
Stocks gave up much of an early gain and were slightly higher in midday trading, led by technology and consumer-related companies.
12:35PM ( 1 hour ago )
US-China trade dispute weighing on retail sector
The trade dispute between the U.S. and China is weighing on the retail sector, with shares of many in the industry falling in premarket trading
11:34AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Business
US economy grew at solid 3.1% rate in Q1
US economy grew at solid 3.1% rate in Q1 but economists see significant slowdown in current quarter
9:04AM ( 4 hours ago )
Europe shares rise, Wall Street poised to open higher
European markets are mostly higher and Wall Street is poised for small gains on the open following a string of losses set off by worries about trade tensions
7:41AM ( 5 hours ago )
Europe shares rise after drop in Asia, fall on Wall Street
European shares are mostly higher in early trading after a drop in Asia that followed another round of selling on Wall Street
4:33AM ( 9 hours ago )
AP Business - Economy
Trump adviser warns of 'strong response' to any Gulf attack
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton is warning Iran that any attacks in the Persian Gulf will draw a "very strong response" from the United States
9:40PM ( 15 hours ago )
Missouri agency cites concerns at St. Louis abortion clinic
Missouri's health department said Wednesday that the license for the state's only abortion clinic is in jeopardy because of a litany of problems, including "failed surgical abortions" and concerns about patient safety
7:12PM ( 18 hours ago )
New climate study ordered for Colorado, Utah energy leases
U.S. officials must consider the climate change effects from leasing about 250 square miles of public lands in Colorado and Utah for oil and gas exploration
6:54PM ( 18 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
No end seen to struggle as Mississippi flood enters month 4
'Nobody knows' when water will go down, 4 months into a Mississippi Delta flood that's drawing comparisons to 1927
9:47AM ( 1 day ago )
Satellite images show crops on fire in Syria rebel enclave
New satellite photos show damage to Syrian villages, farmland amid government offensive on last rebel stronghold
12:54PM ( 2 days ago )
Judge: Anheuser-Busch must pull some ads about MillerCoors
A Wisconsin judge has ordered Anheuser-Busch to stop suggesting in advertising that MillerCoors' light beers contain corn syrup
11:24AM ( 5 days ago )
AP Business - Agriculture
Computer finds striking similarities in Chicago cold cases
A computer algorithm has helped reopen dozens of Chicago cold cases by finding similarities in the slayings of more than 50 women
1:33PM ( 4 minutes ago )
Syrian boy survives bombing that killed his mother, siblings
Syrian activists, volunteers: Government warplanes bomb last rebel stronghold, level building, killing 5 people
1:26PM ( 12 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump muddles waters over Russia election help
President Donald Trump is assailing special counsel Robert Mueller as a "never Trumper" and as a rejected, conflicted job-seeker
1:18PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Trump lashes special counsel after he says no exoneration
President Donald Trump is branding special counsel Robert Mueller a "never Trumper" and said he led a biased investigation on Russia's meddling in the 2016 election
1:16PM ( 21 minutes ago )
Former US Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi dies at 81
Former U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who used seniority to steer billions of dollars to his home state of Mississippi, has died
1:15PM ( 23 minutes ago )