The mix of anticipation and excitement that farmers experience each spring just may be a little more intense this year.
With plenty (or too much) soil moisture and only occasional glimpses of spring-like weather, plenty of sitting-around time has been logged — much like in 2010, when cool and wet conditions caused major planting delays.
But with grain stocks at near historic lows, the world’s farmers are facing tremendous pressure not only to make money, but to grow enough to feed the world.
Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, says that while near-record prices for corn and soybeans could mean another great year for farm income, the big-picture outlook is “scary.”
Hurt says that USDA pre-harvest forecasts call for an 18-day supply of corn remaining on Aug. 31, with a 15-day supply of soybeans.
“If you had no new crop harvested … you would essentially use the last kernel of corn Sept. 18. We’re running on empty. The prime corn country, which Jay County is in, we don’t have the big harvest until (mid) October,” Hurt says.
“If we stumble on production this year … the cupboards are going to be bare and we’re not going to be able to put enough in these cupboards … ethanol’s not going to get (corn); the livestock industry’s not going to get it; the foreign buyers can’t have it. That’s a little scary when we get to the low-income people in the world. You and I may complain, but we’ll go ahead and eat. We may change what we eat, but we’ll eat. The lowest income (people) don’t have a choice.
“The basic concept is food is a necessity, and humankind is not sustainable without food,” Hurt says.
Katrina Wangler, director of the Jay County office of the USDA’s farm service agency, said this week that the main concern she’s heard from local farmers is in regards to field conditions.
“It needs to dry up. That seems to be their biggest concern at the minute,” Wangler said. “Last year we were in the same boat … it rained and rained and they didn’t get into the fields until the end of May.”
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In fact, a good amount of corn was planted in April 2010, but wet conditions in early May damaged some of the early planted corn and forced others to switch to beans from corn. Some soybeans were even planted in late June and early July last year.
With weather forecasts calling for a cooler and wetter than normal spring in Jay and surrounding counties and much of the upper Midwest, a Purdue Extension agronomy specialist is advising patience from farmers.
“Do not rush soil preparation and planting where rooting ability will be impaired,” Tony Vyn said. “Be kind to your soil this year. It’s your livelihood.”
Indiana State Climatologist Dev Niyogi says that La Niña, which is cool air over the Pacific Ocean that can affect weather conditions throughout North America, is behind the recurring weather pattern. Soil was saturated in many parts of Indiana, although parts of Northern Indiana were still drier than normal during early April.
Heading into this week, approximately 1 percent of the corn crop had been planted statewide, although it’s unlikely that any corn is in the ground in Jay County.
Jeff Boyer, superintendent of Davis-Purdue Agricultural Center on Ind. 1 near Farmland in Randolph County, said that February and March were wetter-than-normal at the center, and that April is off to a wet start as well.
“It’s going to be awhile (before field work can be done) … even without any rain, and they’re calling for rain this week,” Boyer said. “We haven’t had a lot of warm weather, and if we don’t get warm weather and sunshine, it’s hard to dry.”
He said that although farmers want big yields to take advantage of high prices, “the concern now is just getting in (the fields) and getting good conditions.”
Hurt says that market forces on the demand side are trying to push producers towards growing corn, although he says that is a decision that will be impacted by crop rotation needs, planting schedules and input costs.
“The marketplace is saying … corn, this is what we need,” Hurt says.
Hurt adds that the direct input costs for an acre of corn — including seed, fuel, fertilizer and other expenses — are estimated to be $400 for the 2011 growing season.
“Don’t put all of your financial bets that corn is going to be the best crop … the sheer amount of money they have to borrow (to plant) … that relates to risk. If they have a lot tied up in the corn crop, they have a lot to lose,” Hurt says.
“There is a lot of optimism. There is potential for record incomes for crop operations here in 2011,” he added.