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Tags: Food | Farm | Wet | Planting | us | economy | midwest

Wet Spring Creates Anxiety in Midwest Farm Country

Monday, 02 May 2011 07:09 AM EDT

Experts say it's too early for farmers and backyard gardeners to worry about the wet spring that's drenched the Midwest, but anxiety seems to be growing among those frustrated by the muddy fields.

"Yeah, there's a few people starting to sweat," said Kevin Baird, who grows corn, soybeans, tomatoes and other crops in southern Indiana and usually has been out in the fields for weeks by now. "Last year at this time they were almost wrapping up here."

Farmers know it's too soon to panic, as corn production usually is OK if it's planted by mid-May, and there's still plenty of time for all but a few cool-season vegetables. Soybeans shouldn't be in the ground yet anyway.

But this year, farmers have a lot on their minds.

Corn and soybean prices are high, driven by low stockpiles and demand for livestock feed and ethanol, making farmers especially eager to begin work with the hope of a profitable season.

Their ability to bring in big harvests ultimately will ripple throughout the country because corn and soybeans play key roles in determining how much everything costs from T-bones, eggs and chicken breasts to a tank of gasoline. Those crops are often used as livestock feed and corn is used to produce most ethanol, which is blended with gasoline.

"It's too early to worry," Iowa state agricultural economist Bruce Babcock said of the corn crop, "but, by gosh, we better get it planted."

Some of the anxiety may be psychology -- and impatience with weeks of clouds and rain. People are tired of a winter that seemingly won't end.

"Probably more than any year in the last 17 years," said Shane Cultra, owner of Country Arbors nursery in Urbana, where the first sunny day in almost two weeks brought crowds of eager plant buyers on Friday. "When that transition to what was supposed to be spring came, that didn't happen."

Many farmers feel the same way, Baird said.

"Everybody's human," he said.

Of course, Baird's weather woes are tangible, too.

Nine inches of rain have fallen on his farm near Salem, Ind., in the past couple of weeks. And a tornado hit his farm last week, tearing up the roof of his home along with the plastic structures known as high tunnels where his sons grow tomatoes.

"They took a real beating when we lost the plastic on the tunnels," he said.

Between the wind and the water, "We're running two to three weeks behind -- probably about a month behind -- if we don't get more (rain)," he said.

Growers of sweet corn are especially worried, because they stand to miss a huge opportunity for sales if it's not ready by July 4.

"In northern Indiana here, if you can have sweet corn for sale by the Fourth of July, that's great," said Liz Maynard, a horticulture specialist with the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.

Tim Seifert said he doesn't worry about starting a bit late most years.

The 53-year-old farms primarily on rented land around Auburn, Ill., near Springfield. He's dodged the heavy rains that have fallen recently to the south, but a half inch here and a quarter inch there still has left his fields too wet to plant.

But he acknowledges the weather adds a measure of anxiety as he thinks about everything from food prices to his own bills, among them rent due to the 14 or 15 landowners whose land he farms.

"We've got a lot on our shoulders here," Seifert said.

It's easy to find even higher anxiety on the Internet.

"Ugh," one Illinois farm equipment seller wrote on Twitter last week about forecasts that included more rain.

"Ugh indeed," came quick agreement from a farming consultant.

As that anxiety builds, someone like University of Illinois crop scientist Emerson Nafziger turns to history for perspective. It isn't guaranteed, but in most years corn planted before mid-May will be fine, and as recently as 2009 the Midwest produced a huge crop after planting as late as June because of a cold, wet spring, he said.

But after so much rain, Nafziger said those historic norms offer only so much comfort.

"We'll stay optimistic," Nafziger said. "But my, it's wet out there."

© Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Experts say it's too early for farmers and backyard gardeners to worry about the wet spring that's drenched the Midwest, but anxiety seems to be growing among those frustrated by the muddy fields. Yeah, there's a few people starting to sweat, said Kevin Baird, who grows...
Monday, 02 May 2011 07:09 AM
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