The 2019 planting season has been challenging, to say the least, for farmers across the Midwest. Our local farmers (McHenry County, IL) who occupy 60% of the land according to 2012 Census data, are no different. One of the wettest springs people can ever remember, over 6” of rain higher than average in some areas, has made planting a game of chance: plant, wait, switch crops or don’t plant at all. By mid- May only 11% of crops had been planted, which were exposed to heavy rains and raising concerns if they would even come up. Farmers were praying for a break, knowing decisions had to be made regarding crop insurance. Federal Crop insurance is a small safety net with coverage less than half of the crop’s value at time of harvest, if it fails to produce. That “might” cover the initial expenses of planting, labor and overhead.
For corn, crops had to be in by the first week of June and soybeans later in the month, with the insurance decreasing each day after the set date if not planted. Many farmers who planned on planting corn had the option of switching from a 112-day return to a 105-day return. Some chose to switch to soybeans. A painful gamble, knowing the market isn’t as strong for soybeans right now and export tariffs.
Our local crops are not the only ones to suffer, there is a nationwide hay shortage from the severe winter and due to the spring flooding in other states, millions of heads of calves were lost. Locally, the wet conditions have also impacted small produce farmers that supply farmers markets and produce stands. Kyle and Rebecca Dionne of KRD Farms in Marengo, a Certified Organic farm, provided their perspective of the rough start to the planting season, but things are looking better. Kyle who also works for a local farm and in seed distribution said many farmers had to change their planting strategies, in hopes to still have a productive year.
The next milestones for corn will be tassel and silk stage which drives pollination, where each plant consumes ¼” of water a day. The next stage will be the blister formation and “milk fill” which determines the quality of the corn. If it is too hot and dry the kernels will not be their best. But…nice and dry at the end of the season will help farmers spend less on drying if the corn has a low water content out of the field.
We are a farming community and need to support our farmers more than ever. Please remember to always be patient when tractors are on the road and yield to them. This is a worrisome time for many, not knowing the outcome of harvest. Farming isn’t only a business for many, for some it is generations of dedication, hard work and pride. Say a prayer for them and hopefully the rest of the season will yield good outcomes. Until then, enjoy local produce stands and farmers markets whenever possible.