Wet spring has farmers looking for options

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Agriculture Educator, Leigh Presley

As I was jolted awake by rain pelting the windows early Wednesday morning, my heart sank.

When will it let up and dry out? That’s one question much of the Midwest is asking right now.

As bad as this spring has been in Wisconsin, the heartbreaking stories from states like Oklahoma, Illinois and Nebraska tell us that it could be worse.

Still, that’s not much comfort to farmers in our area, some of whom have yet to get a single seed in the ground.

When faced with these circumstances, farmers have few good options available.

Crop insurance

This spring, more than ever before, grain farmers are looking to crop insurance as a tool to help ensure that they will have some revenue coming in to help cover costs.

With crop insurance, a farmer may take a partial indemnity payment and plant an alternative grain or forage crop once conditions improve.

A farmer may also choose to plant their intended crop late, though crop insurance guarantees are reduced for each day past final planting dates set by the USDA Risk Management Agency.

If planting at a reasonable time is impossible, as it has been on millions of acres this year, a farmer may elect to not plant at all and take a prevented plant indemnity payment based on their coverage level and historical crop yields.

However, prevented plant isn’t a simple solution to the issue — farmland rent and taxes still need to be paid; farmers with livestock still need feed, and weeds on fallow fields still need to be managed through cultivation, applying herbicides or planting cover crops.

All of this comes with a cost and at a time when little, if any, revenue is coming in.

To help navigate these decisions and evaluate planting options for cover crops and emergency forages, Extension has developed a website with up to date resources, available at fyi.extension.wisc.edu/grain/extreme-weather/#wetspring.

Vegetables, fruits affected as well

Though most news stories have featured corn and soybean farmers, area vegetable and fruit growers are in the same boat, with planting delayed by wet and cold conditions.

If you’ve been to a farmers market lately, you may have noticed fewer produce vendors — there’s simply not much to sell right now.

What is available may likely have been grown under a hoop house, a saving grace for produce farmers this spring.

Delays and missed selling opportunities translate directly to lost income for specialty crop farmers, many of whom do not have crop insurance.

This wet spring compounds the existing financial challenges farmers of all sizes are facing.

Far-reaching impact

The situation is not just a farmer problem — it has the potential to impact us all significantly.

Will food prices be affected? Will farmers be able to weather this season and future extremes? What happens to our rural and urban communities if not? Will we be able to get the fresh, local produce that’s such a treat during Wisconsin summers?

These questions are hard to answer, but they at least beg thought and consideration beyond the “I told you so” notion that I hear in comments directed at farmers bearing the brunt of climate change and trade tariffs.

Though so much of this seems out of our control, we can show that we care by shopping at a farmers markets (even if it’s raining), attending a local June Dairy Breakfast (Kenosha County’s is next weekend!) or by simply thanking a farmer.