Wet weather delayed northeast Indiana’s field crop planting to the point that most of its farmers were considering their best options if they couldn’t get a corn crop in the ground this year.
The revenue protection coverage level for crop insurance is 85% on corn. But it starts decreasing in Indiana by 1% for each day the crop isn’t planted after a June 5 deadline during a 20-day, late-planting coverage window.
There also is the least favorite crop insurance survival mode. It’s called a “prevented planting” payment farmers with crop insurance can opt for any time during that window, if area conditions have prevented planting.
It amounts to 55% of the original corn revenue guarantee, according to an advisory from Purdue University’s Center for Commercial Agriculture.
“This is maybe the most gut-wrenching type of claim we come across,” said Rex Williamson, founder and a co-owner of Williamson Insurance Agency in Payne, Ohio, 4 miles east of the Indiana border.
“The last thing a farmer wants to do is not plant; it’s the way we were raised,” he said. “The two things a farmer loves to do the most is plant the crop and harvest it.”
But because it is best for farmers to let crop insurance agents know as early as possible if they might take a prevented planting payment, June 6 was among the busiest days Williamson Insurance had ever seen, he said.
Founded in 1980, the agency does nothing but crop insurance, and “this loss year in terms of prevent planting far exceeds anything I have experienced before,” Williamson said.
A little before noon the day after the June 5 deadline for full coverage on corn, an underwriter there had turned in notices from 137 farms in northwest Ohio, northeast Indiana and southeast Michigan saying they might need the prevented planting option this year.
With at least a half-dozen staff handling the phones, “we can’t keep up with the calls that are coming in,” Williamson said.
In previous years with serious planting delays, prevented planting notices had come in from farms in geographic pockets where frequent rains had the most impact, he said. But this year the planting delays were much more widespread.
“We tell our clients everybody’s at risk. We don’t know of anybody who has it all in,” Williamson said of the corn crop. “They are filing for prevent plant hoping they never collect on it, but just in case.”
Agricultural Statistics Service data for the week ended June 2 showed only 31 percent of the state’s corn had been planted, compared with a state average for the past five years of 94 percent of the crop in by that date.
The main obstacle to getting crops in was the compaction from heavy equipment that would result in yield loss if planting was attempted on soil that had not dried out sufficiently.
A shortening of the growing season that accompanies planting delays also can reduce yield with some of the more favored corn varieties. A workable response to prolonged wet weather in May can involve switching out seeds for a shorter season hybrid.
That was the approach Bob Bishop of Bishop Farms in Leesburg was taking late last month. His was among the state’s luckier farms that had more than half its planting for the year done by then.
“I already sent back the 114-day corn to get some shorter season stuff,” he said. “The next hybrid we have is 111 day, but I’m thinking about getting 108- or 99-day corn.”
Even if farmers decide to leave their fields unplanted this year, Bishop said they still would require maintenance.
“You’ve got to do something with it in the summer or you’ll have a heck of a weed problem later,” the Kosciusko County farmer said. “There are a few options, but they’ll cost money to do.”
Randy Kron, Indiana Farm Bureau president, said crop insurance will be important to the state’s farmers this year.
“At Farm Bureau, we worked hard to advocate for a Farm Bill that would maintain crop insurance and we’re thankful that crop insurance remains an option for Indiana’s farmers,” he. “It’s going to be critical.”
The administration had announced trade assistance would be available to the nation’s farmers because tariffs had hurt field crop prices, but INFB said late last month farmers would only receive the aid for land they tried to plant this spring, and very few details were available on the aid package at the time.
Purdue Extension and its Center for Commercial Agriculture announced June 4 they had created a series of videos to help farmers with decisions related to delayed planting.
Their videos available on YouTube include Historical Indiana Planning Dates and Yield Trends, https://youtu.be/rUhfkWcNXOQ; Late Corn Planting Considerations, https://youtu.be/qlrn42V8dyI; and Late Soybean Planting Considerations, https://youtu.be/R4yiiuwHW8E.
An hour-long YouTube video analyzing scenarios for planting and yield, which addresses crop insurance considerations and the 2019 Market Facilitation Program is available at https://purdue.edu/commercialag.