After suffering through the wettest year on record, and with rain continuing to bucket out of June skies, American corn farmers are desperately behind on planting, with little relief in sight and their distress compounded by Donald Trump’s trade war with China and Congressional Republicans’ reluctance to provide flood relief.
“Through all of April and all of May, wave after wave of rain hit the nation right in the breadbasket, with April capping the wettest 12 months on record for the continental United States,” the Washington Post reports. “The past 60 days, in particular, have coincided with planting season in much of the country.”
With yet more rain in the forecast, time is running out, especially for farmers in Illinois and Indiana who have planted only 45% and 31% of their corn, respectively. Even producers in slightly less waterlogged states like Iowa have not yet planted more than 70% of their corn.”
“The coming week’s weather will make or break this year’s crop,” the Post writes.
The problem is worse than it appears, University of Wyoming agronomist Andrew Kniss said in an interview, explaining that planting itself is no guarantee of healthy germination rates. Seeds will struggle in such wet soil, he explained, and the plants that do emerge will likely be stunted.
Whereas in recent years, roughly 84% of corn plants would have emerged by this point, the Post said germination stood at 46% overall as of June 4, with Illinois and Indiana at 32% and 18% respectively.
And while farmers could make a last-minute switch to soybeans, which generally survive flooding better than corn, the Post says that would make them “even more exposed to Trump’s trade war with China, the world’s largest soybean market.”
A far more likely option, Illinois corn farmer Sherman Newlin told the paper, is crop insurance. “They’re just going to say ‘I’m done,’” he said of neighbours whose farms, like his, remain under standing water. “‘I’ll just take my insurance and live to fight another day.’”
But not everyone has that option. While some 85% of Illinois corn farmers are covered by insurance, “the remaining 15% includes many small, family farms that are left with little protection against this unprecedented weather,” the Post states. But “for many farmers, the clock has run out on corn for 2019.”
That situation will send shock waves beyond the sodden fields of the Midwest, as “alarmed traders will probably bid up prices on corn and soybeans, making costs soar for ethanol producers, hog farmers, and others who are already caught in Trump’s escalating two-front trade war.”National Public Radio reports that monetary relief is on the way, in the form of US$3 billion in flood relief for Midwestern farmers, part of a $19.1-billion disaster aid package whose beneficiaries will also include hurricane-battered Puerto Rico and wildfire ravaged California. The aid package had been stalled in the House of Representatives by three Republicans insisting the bill “should include spending cuts to offset the price tag as well as funding for Trump’s border wall,” Grist noted. But the bill passed last week and was due for Trump’s signature.