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Farmers still have hope

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CRUSHING DAMAGE: Kristen Lovell points out the bent and broken metal beams on Grant Creek Farm’s high tunnel. Hail poked holes in the tunnel’s plastic cover. This is the second time in two years that severe storms have caused significant damage to the $10,000 structure.
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EMPTY FIELDS: This field should be growing Grant Creek Farm’s 2019 pumpkin crop. But until the weather allows the ground to dry out, weeds and grass are the field’s only occupants.

BY Amy Smelser - ctreport@indy.rr.com

June 5 is arriving too early for many local farmers.

“(That’s) the last planting date for corn to get the full (insurance) amount you’re eligible to receive,” Curt Campbell said. “And it’s a percentage off every day after that up to June 20.”

Campbell, the Purdue Extension agent for Wabash County, said he estimates only 5 percent of the corn crop has been planted in Wabash, Grant and Huntington counties. A few Indiana counties, such as Morgan and Jasper, are much further along.

As of June 2, 31 percent of corn have been planted in Indiana, compared to a 5-year average of 94 percent by the same date. Seventeen percent of soybeans have been planted, compared to a 5-year average of 80 percent.

By the same date in 2018, 98 percent of corn and 93 percent of soybeans were planted in Indiana.

All hope is not lost, however.

“If the weather cooperates, we could still get corn out around here,” Campbell said. “I think we’re a week at the earliest to be able to get out and start doing anything.”

Some parts of the area are wetter than others, he added. If farmers decide to plant corn this year, they may have to consider a short maturation seed variety. Typically corn needs to be harvested before a killing frost, which happens around Oct. 31 on average.

“And this definitely isn’t an average year,” Campbell said. “So you’re taking chances.”

Farmers with prevented planting insurance policies receive a fraction of the crop’s average market value. Farmers without insurance face even greater financial losses. However, the effect doesn’t end on the farm.

“Huntington and Wabash counties are ag-driven, economy-wise,” Campbell said.

Farmers who decide to take a prevented planting insurance payment aren’t going to buy equipment or fertilizer or seed. That will affect the bottom line of many local businesses, including ethanol plants and equipment, chemical and seed dealers, Campbell said.

Farmers who choose to plant corn must commit this week, he added.

“Corn is the crucial decision right now,” Campbell said. “We get past this and people can worry about beans. You can plant beans until the middle of July.”

The prevented planting deadline for soybeans is June 20, which gives farmers time to switch their from planting corn to planting beans if they choose.

Randy Kron, the president of Indiana Farm Bureau, said farmers and agriculture businesses have overhead costs such as property taxes and land payments that must be paid regardless of income. Some farmers rely on farm equity to cover those expenses during lean years.

“You’re trying to figure out how to minimize the financial impact and survive until next year,” Kron said. “We have to look at the situation now and make the best choice.”

Younger farmers may not have that equity to draw from, he said, which worries him because the industry’s future depends on the next generation’s investment.

“Many farmers are trying to decide what to do. What’s the best route?” Kron said. “And that has ramifications all over the community. … Equipment dealers aren’t going to be selling much. I think of our co-ops and suppliers. If all (the seed and fertilizer) get returned, they’re not making any money, and they’ve got a lot of overhead.”

Kron said that predicting the long-term impact isn’t easy, but fewer dollars will be circulating in rural communities if farmers are unable to get into their fields.

“Which means it’s going to be tougher for everybody,” he said. Some farmers have decided not to plant corn, opting for prevented planting insurance payments and hoping the weather allows for a good soybean season.

Regardless, the market may not be kind to the ag industry. Livestock farmers may face feed shortages or increased feed costs, Kron added, because of this year’s growing conditions.

Kristen Lovell, the assistant vice president of commercial and agriculture lending at Crossroads Bank in Wabash, said she’s worried about farmers in general.

“If they have a really rough year this year, they have to hope the crop insurance comes through for them,” she said.

The payout is dependent on the plan.

“They’re only going to get a fraction of what they would be making on already tight margins,” Lovell said. “Some people are already hurting from the past few years, so this is really going to put some additional stress on them.”

Lovell, who runs Grant Creek Farm with her husband, knows the stress first hand. The Memorial Day storms almost destroyed her farm’s high wind tunnel.

The farm mainly grows pumpkins, but the family grows produce, such as sweet corn, kale and carrots, to sell at local farmers markets. They use the tunnel to grow produce year-round. The storm damage to their wind tunnel could shorten the growing season.

“(The pumpkins) are starting in trays, and we can’t plant them yet because it’s just a soggy mess,” she said. “That’s a risk we run, so we’ll see how it plays out this year.”

Lovell said she’s hopeful that their produce and pumpkin crops will be successful despite the weather. They aren’t giving up.

Her good attitude is what Randy Kron said he sees in Hoosier farmers.

“Most farmers are still pretty optimistic,” he said. “I’m mean, that’s your nature. If you farm, you’ve got to be optimistic. You’re always thinking next year will be better.”