Soaking rain, crop prices affecting local farms

Published: May. 6, 2019 at 4:25 PM EDT
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The running theme for local agriculture recently has been "too much of a good thing". Half-flooded fields and lower yields are a concern for farmers approaching peak planting season.

"Generally, we'd like to be planting by now," says Jason Heerdegen, manager of the Ottawa Lake Co-Op. "The first [week] of May is an ideal time to get going, to get a crop in the field. Obviously, the weather has not cooperated with us... these last two days have been beautiful, and we'd like to have more of these, but we're still 4 to 5 days out from planting."

That time frame may be pushed back further by more rain expected later this week.

Day length is another major player in determining what to grow, but months down the line, it comes down to yet another aspect of weather: frost. Delayed planting would lead to shallower roots, which would end up more susceptible to damage with the first freeze of fall.

Fluctuating prices are also a constant battle, and it's not just about crop quality or quantity. With the US-China trade war escalating and more tariffs threatened, Heerdegen says the ag markets have been as skittish as any other.

"Right now, the prices are pretty low. Once you get a 7 in front of a bean price, and $3.50 for corn, we're planting at a loss."

As far as quantity, University of Illinois researchers have found that heavy rains early on can reduce U.S. corn yields, for example, by as much as 34% -- and planting more seeds than usual won't make up for lost time.

"Farmers are really efficient, and we can get a lot done in a hurry," says Heerdegen, "but we still need the soils to be dry since we only get one chance to do this."

No matter the crop, the weather always remains the wildcard regardless of season. For all of the planting and planning involved, there's not much else farmers can do except watch the skies and wait.