As the flood waters from last month’s heavy rains in central Illinois recede, they leave behind potential problems for corn and soybean farmers in the area.
“We’re seeing that this (spring) is on record as being the fourth wettest spring the state of Illinois has ever had. It’s not just Tazewell County,” said Tazewell County Farm Bureau Manager Emily Rogier. “Really, throughout the entire Midwest, the states have seen record-breaking flooding. Other states have surely been hit hard, but this is the worst flooding the state has seen in a quarter of a century."
The flooding has put Tazewell County corn and soybean farmers at least a month behind on their planting. Kent Kleinschmidt, president of the Tazewell County Farm Bureau, raises corn, soybeans and beef cattle in Tazewell, Logan and McLean counties. He generally likes to plant his corn in April and his soybeans in May. This year’s corn crop went into the ground in mid-May and he planted his soybeans earlier this month.
“(I was) about a month late,” said Kleinschmidt. “I was not alone in that, and some corn didn’t get planted until June, which is really late. Luckily, I was able to get mine planted the third week of May.”
David King, who raises corn, soybeans and popcorn at his Morton farm, was not able to complete his planting until June because of last month’s flooding. He prefers to begin his planting in April, but this year, he was forced to postpone that until the middle of May.
“A lot of times, we like to be finished by then,” he said.
King estimated that 80 percent of his soybeans and 50 percent of his corn were not planted until earlier this month. Rogier said that late planting has been more the rule than the exception throughout central Illinois after an exceptionally wet spring.
“We’re about a month to six weeks behind in planting corn and soybeans,” said Rogier. “It’s definitely been an extraordinarily difficult spring for the whole farming community here.”
Late spring planting will obviously shorten this year’s growing season, which could impact Tazewell corn and soybean yields. King anticipates a 10 to 20 percent decrease in his yield this year compared to last year’s crop. Continued heavy rain this summer could potentially curtail his yield by as much as 30 to 40 percent.
“Heavy rains are not good anymore because we’ve got a lot of ponded areas that will yield from nothing to up to 50 percent,” he said.
Adding to the potential for decreased corn and soybean yields is that some fields along the Illinois and Mackinaw rivers flood plains have remained unplanted, according to Rogier.
“You’ll still see a lot of standing water in the two flood plains here in Tazewell County,” she added. “There’s still a lot of flooding you’ll see because there’s a lot of clay and silty soil, so the water doesn’t run right through it.”
Rogier believes King’s projection of a 10 to 20 percent yield loss is representative of this year’s outlook for Tazewell farmers. Now that crops are planted, she added, much depends on factors beyond a farmer’s control. Wet spring weather created the potential for low corn and soybean yields by forcing farmers to plant late. The right weather conditions this summer can help alleviate the problems that heavy spring rains have created.
“It’s hard to pinpoint now,” Rogier said. “If we can get some warm, sunny days to come, we might be able to finish strong.”
King and Kleinschmidt concurred with Rogier that at this point in the year, farmers are largely at the mercy of nature. King said ideal conditions for a strong finish to a growing season are consistently warm days throughout the summer, punctuated by about an inch of rain each week.
“Eighty-five degrees every day would be perfect, but you can’t always get that,” King said. “We put the seed in the ground and we do all we can to take care of it. But, God gives the increase.”
If a potential silver lining exists for area farmers, it is the likelihood that decreased corn and soybean yields could drive up prices that had been depressed in recent years by plentiful harvests. In a July 2018 interview with the Pekin Daily Times, Kleinschmidt said a surpluses on the world market had driven the cost of corn down to just over $3 a bushel, while soybeans cost just over $8 per bushel. Depending on production costs, he estimated that farmers have to sell corn at $4 a bushel and soybeans at $9 per bushel to make a profit. Statistics from the financial and business news website Business Insider show corn is currently $4.14 per bushel and soybeans are currently priced at $8.92 per bushel.
“Right now, we’re seeing an upward trend of corn and soybean prices, which is good for our farmers,” said Rogier.
While Kleinschmidt agreed a shortened growing season and decreased yields have already begun to affect corn and soybean prices, he does not feel that the effect on the market will be as dramatic as it was in 2012, when a nationwide drought drove corn prices up to nearly $8 a bushel and spiked soybean prices to a peak figure of $17.39 per bushel, according to historical data from the investment research platform Macrotrends.
“I don’t foresee that it’s going to be anything crazy, not like the drought year in 2012, when we had really low yields on corn and low yields on beans,” said Kleinschmidt. “That was nationwide, so it affected the overall supply. The prices could go up some and they could go up somewhat higher, but I don’t foresee them going crazy.”
Because much of the corn produced in central Illinois is used to feed livestock, there is a possibility that low 2019 yield numbers could also affect the price of beef and pork, according to Rogier.
“We could potentially see a lot of (farmers) who have to purchase the feed for their livestock because there’s going to be such a shortage of it in the fields,” she said. “That varies from farm to farm. Essentially, a lot of (people) could see themselves selling off their cattle because the cost of feed could drive them to (do so).”
Looking beyond 2019, King said the wet spring could lead to compaction of soil in the fall. Compacted soil will make it more difficult for roots to grow, take in nutrients and absorb moisture, which could adversely affect future crops.
“A very hard freeze over the winter would alleviate a lot of that,” King added.
Another potential long-term effect of this year’s flooding is the result of unplanted fields along the Illinois and Mackinaw rivers flood plains, according to Kleinschmidt.
“The low spots in fields where crops either didn’t get planted or got flooded out affects the microbes that live in the soil,” he said. “They like to have something growing there during the growing season. So, in those areas, the soil health might not be as good in the long term.”
Rogier has seen one encouraging development from this year’s flooding and the problems it has created for farmers throughout the Midwest.
“I’ve talked to several farmers who have lost some family members and didn’t necessarily have the labor they needed to get their crops in the ground as fast as other (farmers) were,” she said. “A lot of (farmers) have helped their neighbors get their corn and soybeans in the ground. They’re coming together to help as farming communities. I’ve also heard about the major flooding in Nebraska, where people are donating hay and fence posts, and are helping rebuild some of the areas that have been hit with flooding, storms and high winds.”