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McHenry County farmers at mercy of Mother Nature this growing season

Farmers at the mercy of Mother Nature, crop prices this growing season

Harvard farmer Brandon Walter said the 2019 growing season has made history.

Although farmers have had to deal with adverse weather conditions or sporadic crop prices in the past, Walter said he doesn’t think there ever has been such a bad set of circumstances for planting across the nation.

Persistent snow and rainfall over the past several months continues to prevent many Midwest farmers from planting corn, and unless they can get it into the ground by Friday, they risk losing insurance coverage.

Ongoing tariff disputes between China and the U.S. also take their toll on market prices for corn and soybeans, two of the country’s largest agricultural exports.

“I don’t think there’s anyone that can say that they’re immune to do this,” Walter said.

A number of farmers in McHenry County – which has 911 farms that make up about 60% of the county’s area, according to 2012 Census data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture – are concerned they won’t get all of their corn into the ground this week.

After Friday, insurance coverage drops 1% a day on corn. The soybean deadline for full crop insurance is later this month.

John Bartman of Marengo – who grows corn, soybeans and other vegetables on 900 acres in McHenry and Boone counties – said many farmers rely on a high-end yield to stay afloat if commodity prices are down.

If corn is planted late, farmers will see a significant reduction in the quality of their crops, which may leave them struggling to make ends meet.

As of May 31, soybean prices were at $8.79 a bushel, down from almost $11 a bushel a year ago. Corn sits at $4.28 a bushel, the highest it has been in about three years.

Bartman said he has managed to get about 80% of his crops planted this season. He attributed his progress to the use of cover crops, which allow his land to handle more stress from the weather.

However, he said a lot of vegetable growers haven’t planted anything in the ground yet, which will have a trickle-down effect for area farmers markets.

“People looking for summertime vegetables will be disappointed, as well, because the ground is so saturated, the vegetable growers can’t get in and plant,” Bartman said. “For those that can, it will be very late this year for vegetable crops to be harvested.

“For people looking for the early taste for sweet corn this summer, it’s not going to be local corn they’ll receive in the early summer.”

Although crop growers have enough to worry about, Dan Ziller, board president of the McHenry County Farm Bureau, said he is “affected dramatically” by the situation because he raises cattle in addition to growing wheat, corn and soybeans.

Ziller said his cattle are suffering not only because the wet land makes it harder for them to move around, but also because he is struggling to feed them amid a severe nationwide hay shortage.

“I’ve got 200 head of cattle that have to be fed, so I have to have something in the ground for them,” Ziller said.

Severe winter weather destroyed a lot of hay crops, which has put a lot of cattle farmers behind the eight ball.

“It’s a fine line, and after being in five years of a depressed market and very low income, this gamble is not something that we want to take on, and there’s a whole lot of us out here trying to figure out what to do,” Ziller said.

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