Corn field photo

Corn fields are not expected to fill as many grain bins as usual in southern Indiana in what has already been declared as a disastrous year for agriculture.

A very wet spring has resulted in some poor looking crops and a disaster declaration from the United State Department of Agriculture for all of Indiana. The designation by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue means all farms in the state will be eligible for assistance from the U.S.D.A.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb requested the assistance for Hoosier farmers due to the excessive rain and flooding farmers experienced this spring in Indiana. “I am grateful that Secretary Perdue and his team recognized the hardships Hoosier farmers experienced this planting season,” said Governor Holcomb. “As a result of this designation, farmers in 92 counties are eligible for assistance.”

Daviess County is one of those that was hit by the spring rains and late planting and the declaration was welcome news. “This is good,” said Daviess County farmer Mike Myers. “This gives farmers one more option to deal with a difficult year.”

Area farmers say this year was far from a typical year. “My father will soon be 90,” said Mike Cornelius who farms in Northern Daviess County. “He says he cannot remember any year like this.”

The issues began with a late spring followed by wet weather that created mountains of headaches for farmers. “We normally plant in April and May,” said Ron Woodruff, who farms 4,200 acres in northern Daviess County. “By the end of April we had planted 250 acres of corn. It was terrible. It rained and rained. We replanted some fields three and four times, and we have about 300 acres that we never did get planted.”

“This year normal never came,” added Joe Lannan who farms 1,400 acres in Martin and Daviess Counties. “From the tractor it sure is a disaster. Between the late spring, the rains that created a muddy mess and then we got to fighting the weeds and the fungus and the dadgum low commodity prices. This is a year like no other.”

Originally, the state sought a disaster declaration for 74 counties. The remaining 18 counties border those that were declared disasters and are considered contiguous disaster counties – allowing farm operators there to also be eligible for assistance.

Farmers are eligible for assistance from the Farm Service Agency as long as the requirements are met. In order to qualify farmers must show at least a 30% loss in crop production or a physical loss to livestock, livestock products, real estate or property.

The Farm Services Office in Washington has already had some inquiries about the disaster aid and more may be coming. “I have spoken to a few farmers and gave them some information,” said Kathy Fears, co-executive director for the Washington FSA office. “The damage has been pretty widespread. It is extremely unusual. We are hearing about a lot of acres being replanted, some that never got planted, a lot of issues with weeds in what is out there. A lot of people finally gave up on corn and switched over to beans. Now they are just hoping there isn’t an early frost, and the year’s not over.”

Farmers who switched to soybeans are looking at a double whammy. The late planting is expected to impact the yield, and because of the tariff battles, prices for beans have gone into the tank. “We planted some corn in the second week of June and after the rains went back and ripped it out,” said Lannan. “By then all we could do was plant beans. With the price where it is I don’t know how well we’ll do.”

The aid includes access to low-interest FSA emergency loans, which may be used to restore or replace essential property, pay all or part of production costs associated with the disaster year, pay essential family living expenses, reorganize the farming operation and refinance certain debts. Farmers can borrow up to 100% of actual production or physical losses to a maximum amount of $500,000.

“This has been an unprecedented year for Indiana farmers,” said Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch, Indiana’s Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development. “I applaud Governor Holcomb, the Indiana Farm Service Agency and our state department of agriculture for making this assistance available.”

Myers says the damage from the early rains in Daviess County may still not be known for awhile because so many farmers got into the fields so late. “There is very little corn ready to harvest now,” he said. “We really won’t be into the full harvest until the middle or the end of the month. That’s when we will find the wet holes and weedy areas that did not recover from the early rains.”

“There is just not going to be any kind of break,” added Woodruff. “We will be at least a month behind to begin with. By the time we get the harvest done we may not have time to get our field work done to get ready for next year. This may well turn into two years of trying to recover from this weather.”

One farmer believes that if the fall rains come in the harvest could be pushed back even further. “Unfortunately, we might have to put a Christmas Tree in the combine,” said Cornelius. “I can see us still trying to get this crop in the bin in November and December.”

The declaration will also help farmers who have existing FSA loans and may not be able to pay them off. They may be able to have some of those loans deferred. Farmers are encouraged to work with their local FSA office for assistance regarding payment forbearance or emergency disaster loans.

“Farmers who have been doing this their entire lives acknowledge this has been one of the toughest seasons on record, and we’re not in the clear yet,” said Bruce Kettler, Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director. “While we know this isn’t a cure-all solution, this assistance is welcome news and will help those severely impacted.”

“I am certain there will be some guys around here who will take advantage of it,” added Myers. “This is one more tool to manage the money until things get better. It’s good to know that someone in a position to do something recognizes the situation for farmers and what a tough year it has been.”

Right now most farmers are still trying to assess what the disaster program might do to help them. Many are already tapping the Market Facilitation Program to help offset their losses from the tariff war with China.

“The low interest loans can help them with their cash flow,” said Fears. “It can help keep things flowing. There are a lot of bills coming due in the fall and these loans and payments can help them get through in the interim.”

“We’ve been in the MFP and will consider the ag-disaster loans,” said Lannan. “I don’t really like to rely on the government programs, but they get the bills paid and keep the cash flowing. Most farmers don’t want hand-outs or welfare. They want to get a decent price on a good crop that they produced. They just want to make an honest living.”

One fear is that the poor crops will have a chilling impact on the economies or rural Indiana. “If you get less to spend, you don’t spend it,” said Woodruff. “If farmers don’t have the money then there will not be a lot of new farm equipment purchased, no new pick-up trucks, it could have quite an impact on the entire county.”

“With our crop insurance we should wind up with our heads above water,” said Cornelius. “But there are a lot of purchases that are going to go on the back burner for now. When crops go like this it goes down into everything in a farm community.”

This long farm season is one that is still a long way from done, but already 2019 is a year most farmers would like to see in their rearview mirror. “I really hope it turns out better than I think it is,” said Cornelius.

“The most common comment I’ve heard is let’s just get this year behind us,” added Woodruff. “It’s been frustrating, but there is next year. In farming you just keep at it and farm to the good year.”

Farmers seeking help under the Agriculture emergency declaration should contact the local Farm Service Agency office. The deadline to apply for the emergency loans is April 29, 2020.

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