Many Missouri farmers are several weeks behind schedule on planting corn due to persistent wet weather. With the approach of the early June cutoff date for corn planting, farmers may have to switch to other crops or plant out of season despite risks of lower yields, said University of Missouri (MU) agriculture experts.
Either way, corn yields will probably be lower than last year and may fail to meet the nation’s 13-billion-bushel demand. That could lead to higher food prices, reduced livestock production and ripple effects across all farm sectors, said Scott Brown, agricultural economist with the MU Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.
“A number of factors make us worried about where yields are going to be at harvest time this year,” Brown said. “We have a very strong demand for corn in this country, and now we’re starting to talk about less production occurring.”
According to USDA statistics, Missouri corn planting was only 83% complete as of June 1.
“Yield loss will increase at a faster rate as we move into June,” said Bill Wiebold, MU Extension corn specialist. “If we planted today, the yield would be 25% less than what it would have been if we planted at the optimum day, around mid-April.”
Shortfalls in the nation’s corn yield would affect industries reliant on corn, such as ethanol, livestock production and exporting, Brown said.
Consumers would feel the effects of lower yields through higher food prices, he said. “We are already showing corn prices that are at or near historical highs today.”
Planting delays have been widespread across the Corn Belt. Many farmers planted outside the optimal window for corn or worked wet fields, risking soil compaction and other crop problems later in the growing season, Wiebold said.
Seth Brengarth, a corn farmer in New Franklin, is three weeks behind planting some fields. He worries that weakened root systems from compaction, standing water and weeds will make his crop more vulnerable to yield loss.
“Corn isn’t as photo-centric as beans, so you actually have a longer planting season,” he said. “But corn is the most sensitive plant out there, I believe. A lot of the standing water affects your yield by drowning out a lot of your plants, and that way weeds will come on later in the year.”
Brengarth said he and many other farmers will have to decide this week whether to finish planting corn or switch to another crop. “A lot of guys are still planting corn late, but you’re going to see a lot more who are going to stop planting corn and switch over to beans, or sorghum, or something else.”
Late planting pushes the critical silking stage, when pollination occurs, to a less optimal time in late July, Wiebold said. “We can lose a lot of yield if we have hot and dry weather during that phase. Normally, that would be early to mid-July. Now it’s going to be maybe the third or fourth week of July, and so we need a wet and cooler-than-normal July.”
Despite the bad weather, Wiebold tells farmers thinking of switching crops to stay with corn through the first week of June. Soybean seed, the next likely choice, is in short supply. Soybean acres have increased dramatically, due in part to some farmers abandoning corn for beans.
“We have almost no soybean seed left in this country,” Wiebold said. “A farmer switching from corn to soybeans may not find the seed to plant. Or it may be seed that’s not as good in quality.”
Both Wiebold and Brown said that a favorable summer could still yield a decent crop.
“I remind everyone that we’re very early in the season yet,” Brown said. “Yes, we’re very delayed, but we don’t know that this will turn into a severe situation at this point. We could still have very good yields.”
For Brengarth, volatility is part of making a living close to the land.
“Mother Nature is just one of those things,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to get. The last two years we’ve had a really good corn crop, so we’ve been lucky. This is just one of those years. If it comes to a late planting date, you’ve just got to grit your teeth and do it.”