This year’s woeful planting season is unprecedented. Michigan farmers can do nothing but watch as rainfall continues to flush hopes of planting and profitability out of the future.
As of April, Michigan had experienced the wettest 12-month period on record in the continental U.S. Large swaths of Michigan farmland have seen precipitation measurements at more than double their normal rates.
In response, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sent a letter June 18 to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting a USDA secretarial disaster designation for the state of Michigan and added flexibility under the Federal Crop Insurance Program.
Such a designation would allow Michigan to receive help from a recently authorized $19.1 billion disaster aid bill to help Americans across the country — including farmers hit by catastrophic storms.
Michigan farmers have had only 3.5 days with proper conditions for fieldwork as of June 9.
The soggy spring follows a wet harvest last year. Michigan is experiencing the third-wettest year in state history, with 37.9 inches of rain between May 1, 2018, and April 30.
Many farmers are looking at prevented plant acres. According to USDA crop progress reports, only 63% of Michigan’s corn was planted as of June 9 and only 43% of soybeans had been planted.
Estimates suggest final acreage of corn and soybeans may be reduced by as much as 20% of the intended acreage because of the extreme weather. Even the crops that have been planted could see stunted growth and may require replanting.
The magnitude of the losses producers and businesses will experience are far from finalized as market prices continue to adjust, but they will only partially offset losses, says Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association.
“Ongoing trade disputes and record rainfall have put Michigan farmers and agribusinesses in a very difficult predicament with crop planting significantly behind schedule,” he says. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for seeking much-needed relief for our farmers and agribusinesses and urge Secretary Perdue to swiftly approve the governor’s request for disaster relief.”
In a statement, Whitmer said, “Michigan farmers are in a state of crisis right now because of extraordinary weather conditions — from historic rainfall, extreme cold, excessive snow, flash flooding and tornadoes. Michigan has a rich history in agriculture, and on behalf of our farmers, our families and our economy, we need to take action now. I’m ready and eager to partner with the federal government to make sure Michigan farmers have the support they need during this difficult time.”
Also getting behind Michigan growers, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, urged USDA to allow Michigan producers to be eligible for disaster assistance. They also asked USDA to provide flexibility within the Federal Crop Insurance Program.
Flexibility request granted
USDA’s Risk Management Agency announced June 20 that farmers will be able to plant forage, haylage or silage on acres of on prevented plant ground and harvest those acres starting Sept. 1.
This change will allow farmers to use those crops when they are in the best condition and have the best nutritional value for animal feed. Previously, Federal Crop Insurance rules required farmers to wait until Nov. 1 to harvest those acres.
“This announcement by USDA will ensure the planting season is not a total loss and help offset some of the expected shortfalls in feed and forage availability,” says Matt Frostic, president of the Michigan Corn Growers Association.
There are resources to help with tough decisions, says Marilyn Thelen, associate director of agriculture and agribusiness for Michigan State University Extension. She says that educators are writing educational articles, recording podcasts and offering webinars to address the changing needs as the season progresses.
People also can contact one of MSU Extension’s offices or submit any question they have online to receive a rapid response from an expert.
Delayed planting resources are available on the MSU Extension website at canr.msu.edu.