DES MOINES, Iowa — It's decision time for many Midwest corn farmers stuck in a very wet spring: Plant late in ground that's been too wet, replant corn in muddy fields or collect crop insurance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said 91 percent of the nation's corn crop is in the ground but just 74 percent of the plants have emerged. But some states — Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and North Dakota — are much further behind.
“We've had as much rain in the last month and a half as we did last whole growing season,” said Kevin Rempp, 55, who farms in central Iowa near Montezuma.
Only 88 percent of Iowa's corn crop has been sowed. Normally, it'd be finished by now. If the skies clear and the growing season is favorable, it's still possible to have an abundant corn harvest, which would help moderate price swings and keep food and beverage prices steady. So far, weather concerns have driven corn prices up nearly 10 percent in the past week and a half.
But farmers can't look too far into future when they're faced with water-logged fields. Wisconsin lags the most with just 74 percent of the crop in the field.
John Ruedinger, 57, has only 100 of his 1,300 acres of corn in and about 50 of the several hundred acres of alfalfa he plans to grow to feed the 1,200 cows on his dairy farm near Van Dyne, Wis.
“The problem is rain keeps coming an inch or two at a time, saturating the heavy clay soil,” he said. “With little sun and temperatures hovering about 10 degrees lower than usual, fields aren't drying.
Corn farmers who choose to plant unfinished fields or go back and replant this late will see a sizable reduction in the grain they harvest this fall, said Roger Elmore, an Iowa State University agronomy professor and a corn specialist.
In central Illinois, John Olsson finds himself woefully behind in planting his 700 acres of corn, figuring he's about 70 percent done. Last year at this time, he was already on to planting 600 acres of soybeans.
The corn he has in the ground looks good, but he worries that several acres of seed may have been washed away. He's debating whether to replant it.
“It's more important to me to get the remaining areas planted that are waterlogged than patching in a poor stand on a few acres,” Olsson, 51, said from his farm near New Berlin.
Elmore said some may switch to a corn variety that matures more quickly to avoid running up against the first fall frost.
But in the wettest fields, insurance payments may be the best option, he said.