Numbers released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirm what many U.S. farmers already knew — that the weather has made this year the worst planting season on record.
Heavy rainfall, flooding and other adverse events prevented more than 19.4 million acres of crops from being planted across the country and most significantly in the Midwest, which saw a sharp decline in corn, soybean and wheat.
New York farmers, overall, dodged the worst of it. Still, statewide more than 248,194 acres that normally would be planted with crops are lying fallow this year. That number includes 153,033 acres of corn and 69,933 acres of soybeans in fields where farmers were prevented from planting.
“May and June were horrible,” said Rick Pedersen, who produces a number of crops at Pedersen Farms in Stanley. The amount of rain was not so much the problem as the combination of cold and rain that left water sitting in fields unable to be planted, he said.
“I had corn and soybean that didn’t go in,” Pedersen said. He never used to rely on crop insurance at the family farm he and his wife, Laura, started in 1983. “Due to climate change you can’t afford to not have insurance,” he said, and weather extremes over the past five years made crop insurance a necessity. “It used to be if you broke one weather record in a season, that was noteworthy. Now we’ve been having them monthly. Hot, dry, cold, wet — the extremes.”
This season saw farmers across Ontario County unable to plant 20,714 acres, leaving 17.36 percent unplanted. In neighboring Monroe County, 24.58 percent couldn’t be planted, a loss of 17,045 acres.
“It’s not got the makings of a good year,” said Dale Hallings, who has been farming property in the town of Milo, Yates County, for more than 40 years. He said that on June 5 he was “about ready to fold up, but I took a gamble and planted.” Since then?
“The stars are aligning, and as long as we don’t get an early frost, we should do OK,” he said.
Hallings added that a hot and dry summer following the late planting in the clay soil would have really hurt Yates County farmers and businesses that depend on them. Crop insurance will help some farmers break even this year, but that won’t include Mennonite farmers because they don’t participate in those programs, Hallings said.
Rick Pedersen was more hopeful this week as he and his crew harvested a healthy hops crop at the farm on Vogt Road. His cabbage and kale were also thriving.
“We are in better shape than the Midwest,” said Mark James, New York Farm Bureau senior field adviser focused on the Finger Lakes. While thousands of acres weren’t planted in the Midwest, “we were able to rebound,” he said.
Nationwide, overall this season saw an increase of nearly 17.5 million prevented plant acres from this time last year. That is the highest number reported since 2007 when the USDA began releasing the report, the agency said. The USDA data released Monday will continue to be updated through January as the season progresses.
The USDA found Ohio, Arkansas, Michigan and Mississippi among the hardest hit states.
“Agricultural producers across the country are facing significant challenges and tough decisions on their farms and ranches,” USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said in a press release. “We know these are challenging times for farmers, and we have worked to improve flexibility of our programs to assist producers prevented from planting.”
It was the first time Keith Truckor, who has farmed for about 40 years, couldn’t plant a crop. Truckor, 57, who farms in Fulton County in northwest Ohio, normally plants 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans. “It was a tough decision emotionally and financially,” he said. “We as farmers take a lot of pride in planting our crop every spring, and nurturing that crop through the growing season and in harvesting that crop in the fall. Emotionally, you want to get out there and do that, because that’s the way you’ve been brought up.”
The record in Ohio was shattered this year for the percentage of acres where farmers invoked their prevented-planting insurance, which allows farmers to collect when conditions such as heavy rainfall and flooding prevent them from planting crops. They receive money to cover fixed costs, which is a fraction of the money they would receive from a thriving crop.
Truckor is not alone. Nationally, most of the acreage where farmers were prevented from planting due to weather conditions was for corn, at 11.2 million acres, followed by soybeans at 4.4 million acres, the USDA reported. Taking into account all acres where crops either failed or farmers did not plant, Louisiana had the highest percentage of affected agricultural land, followed by Massachusetts and Ohio.
In Fulton County, where Truckor lives, farmers were unable to plant crops on 35.7 percent of the county’s agricultural land. In three counties in Mississippi and one in Illinois, insured farmers were prevented from planting on more than half the farm acres.
In the worst-hit county in New York, Niagara County, insured farmers were prevented from planting on 41 percent of the county’s agricultural land.
Rick Pedersen in Ontario County is worried about the future of agriculture with challenges like climate change, which is now coupled with the impact of trade wars. “It is really hurting farmers,” he said.
Ty Higgins, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, described the situation as staggering and shared concerns for the mental health of farmers. “We just have to be aware that (farmers are) going through some tough times,” he said.
As for Truckor, he looks to next season.“My hope and prayers are that we don’t get a couple more back-to-back bad years,” Truckor said. “We tend to see, the law of averages, you know you tend to average yourself out. You’ve got to take the good with the bad or the business that we’re in called farming will beat you up pretty bad. It sure hurts in the heat of the moment.
“Our family and the community — there’s a lot of support there,” he said. “We’ll get through this.”