While many so-called weather experts this spring were bracing Midwest farmers for a potential drought this summer, Mother Nature threw everybody a curve ball. Excessive rains in early June caused massive flooding not only in southern Wisconsin, but also in eastern Iowa and central and southern Illinois and Indiana.
Many southern Wisconsin farms were left with ponds in fields drowned by 7 to 13 inches of rain that fell between June 5 and June 13. Others weren’t so lucky. Tornadoes, high winds, and large hail damaged dozens of farms and crops. Rivers overflowed their banks spilling into farm fields completely wiping out 2008 crops in many areas. Several farms were inundated by so much water, homes and buildings were flooded as well. Some farmers have been forced to dump their milk because many roads, bridges and culverts were washed out or damaged throughout southern Wisconsin and will remain closed for weeks. As of this morning, 12 counties in southern Wisconsin have been declared federal disaster areas. Several more counties are expected to be added to the list by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in coming days.
Thanks to dry weather the last two weeks of May, Wisconsin farmers at least had their corn and soybeans planted by the time the storm hit. Unfortunately, many Iowa and Illinois farmers weren’t so lucky. Some in the hardest hit areas faced replanting their corn as many as two and three times, while others were still waiting for dry enough weather to plant their soybeans when the floods hit. Maybe they’re the lucky ones.
Picking up the pieces
Recovering from a disaster is never easy and this year will be even more difficult. With escalating corn and soybean prices, crop insurance will likely only capture a fraction of the dollar value of losses experienced by farmers devastated by the flood. This, all in a year when the USDA said in April that we needed an “ideal growing season” in order to have a large enough corn crop to meet the escalating demands for food, feed and fuel.
This less than “ideal growing season” has already caused December corn futures to vault from about $6 a bushel in late May to $7.70 a bushel in mid June, and we’re not even halfway through the growing season! November soybean futures shot up from $12 in April to $15 in mid June. These prices all seem surreal, especially when you consider that corn was selling for $1.80 a bushel and soybeans were $5.50 a bushel less than two years ago.
The short supply of corn will take a direct hit on dairy and livestock producers, especially those who buy most or all of their feed and are already reeling from tight profit margins due to high feed prices. Milk and pork prices have risen, but not at the pace that feed and fuel prices shot up during May and June.
Hopefully, the growing season in the Midwest will straighten out and we’ll have ideal weather the rest of June, July and August and a warm September and October. However, chances are just as high that we’ll see more of the same – wet weather like we had all summer in 1993. Or Mother Nature could turn off the spigot, temperatures could soar and crops could wither in the field. A wet spring followed by a summer drought would be especially brutal on shallow-rooted corn and soybean plants.
Farming has always required a leap of faith, and the risks and challenges have never been greater than they are this year. Hang in there.