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Wet planting season tries growers
Justin Aspenson
JUSTIN ASPENSON was out taking advantage of what, this spring, has been a rare break in the wet weather, to plant soy-beans. Corn growers nearby who were more pressed for time had planted the week before in much wetter conditions.

DRIFTLESS - “We mudded them in–all of them,” Ferryville farmer Swede Knutson said of the first half of his row crop planting this year.

The expression “mudding them in” refers to putting seeds into wet ground–it has been a common refrain in Southwest Wisconsin this spring. Knutson made his pronouncement on Wednesday, May 22. A week later, other growers were still saying that everything that they had planted was done under less than optimal conditions in wet soils.

As the days rolled by, the pressure mounted. May 21 is commonly viewed as the last ‘best day’ to plant corn in Wisconsin. Yields go down day by day after that day is the theory.

Somehow by June 2, Mt. Sterling grower Daryl Aspenson and his sons had finished the corn planting and were planting soybeans in fields near Pine Knob.

Daryl’s son Justin confirmed what Knutson had said a week earlier. The Aspensons had mudded in everything they had planted to that point. However, conditions were getting better as the rains held off for four or five days. 

By Monday, June 3 soils were definitely drying and the growers were hard at it. Farmers were planting into the night and urgently moving the large equipment down country roads from field to field. On Tuesday, May 4, it rained again.

Daryl Aspenson said that Monday, June 3 was a great planting day and lots of fields were planted. As of Tuesday, June 4, the Aspensons had only about 50 acres of soybeans left to plant. Some fields in the bottoms remained too wet to plant and would not be planted this year.

How was the planting season?

“It was a miserable spring,” Daryl Aspenson said.

Back on Friday, May 24, the prevailing wisdom had the amount of spring planting completed at about a third to maybe a half. That’s what Chris Olson from Olson Feeds in Seneca told us.

About a third planted was also the estimate made by Crawford/Richland County Ag Agent Adam Hady. The local ag agent noted the planting rate was definitely behind the average.

However, both Hady and Olson were quick to point out that planting could get done in a hurry if the fields dried some. That’s what happened.

On Monday morning, June 3, Chris Olson’s son Ben Olson estimated that by then a half to two thirds of the crop had been planted at that point and the total could be even more.

Chris had noted that cash corn went up nine cents on Friday, May 24 to $3.60/bushel. The speculation was that weather concerns were driving the price. By Monday, June 3, corn closed at $4.23/bushel. Soybeans hit $8.87/bushel. Weather definitely seemed to be pushing the price. As recently as May 13, soybeans were under $8/bushel.

While Southwest Wisconsin growers struggled with the wet conditions, they were making progress and the weather had given them a bit of a reprieve. That is not the case in other corn-growing areas. Both in the Midwest and elsewhere fields have been subjected to even more severe flooding.

Many growers carry crop insurance that has a Prevent Plant option. As the deadline for Prevent Plant approached, there were many farmers considering the Prevent Plant option, which pays them cash when they cannot plant. The question was how many acres would go the Prevent Plant route.

USDA Farm Service Administration’s Richland-Crawford County Director JoAnn Cooley said she had no way of knowing how many farmers locally might use Prevent Plant for part or all of their crop. She explained the USDA would later survey to find out the number of Prevent Plant acres for historical purposes. However, the growers would not report plantings or the lack thereof until the planting is 100 percent complete-for many of them that’s probably a few weeks off at this point.

Growers still have a couple of weeks to plant soybeans locally and most are underway with that planting now. 

On Monday, June 3, the USDA reported on the record slow corn-planting progress, with just 67 percent of fields planted nationally, according to the Wisconsin Agriculturalist. That would leave 30.6 million acres still to go to reach the USDA’s March intentions. Only Texas was ahead of normal for corn planting. The growers in the western Corn Belt had also made better progress. However, 80 percent of the fields in Iowa are still bare after passage of last week’s final planting date for full crop insurance coverage there, with Wisconsin just 58 percent finished. USDA said only 44 percent of the crop in South Dakota is in, with growers also seeking crop insurance protection.

Deadlines pass Wednesday, June 5 in much of the remaining Central Corn Belt, including Illinois (45 percent planted) and Indiana (31 percent).

“The previous record slow planting program for this week was 87 percent in 1981, and normally farmers are 96 percent finished,” the Wisconsin Agriculturalist noted. “Wet forecasts for the next week, possibly two, aren’t encouraging for growers trying to decide whether to keep going, switch to soybeans or just take a Prevent Plant payment.”

According to a recent Farm Journal Pulse Poll, 34 percent of corn growers plan to file for Prevent Plant payments on at least some of their acres in 2019. Less than half (45 percent) of the 1,017 growers surveyed, said they do not plan to file for any prevent plant payment. Twenty-one percent remain undecided as the deadline looms.

However, Ben Olson remained optimistic about the situation locally. He noted the season was similar to last year.

“There was a bit of wet planting, but it has been like that the last couple of years,” Ben said on Monday. “We have a wet, wet spring and then it dries off. Last year, we had a wet fall. It seems that’s the way it goes anymore. But, things are coming around and things are getting planted.”

A wet planting season and a trade war with China are bound to add to the volatility of commodities market this year–so stay tuned.