McHenry County farmers estimate as high as 50% production losses this growing season

Area farmers estimate high production losses during historic growing season

Brandon Walter looks over his rain-soaked fields May 31 in Harvard.
Brandon Walter looks over his rain-soaked fields May 31 in Harvard.

In the wake of historic rainfall and flooding in Illinois, some McHenry County farmers are anticipating production losses for area growers well above nationwide averages predicted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Capitol News Illinois reported that the USDA projected that corn production would drop 14% nationally this year while soybean production would drop 19%.

Specifically in Illinois, the USDA expects the number of corn acres harvested to drop by 400,000 acres and the yield to drop less than 14%. This will amount to a total production of nearly 1.9 billion bushels, a 17% drop from last year, according to the Capitol News Illinois report.

“In general, it will just be a tough year, whether it’s corn or soybeans,” McHenry County Farm Bureau Manager Dan Volkers said. “[Farmers] are going to just get the bills paid and try again next year.”

Dan Ziller, a Huntley farmer and McHenry County Farm Bureau board president, said there definitely have been farmers who have taken 30% losses on crops this year. For hay, which is experiencing a nationwide shortage, Ziller said the production losses could be close to 50%.

In addition to crop problems, Ziller said the cows weren’t producing as much milk this year and cattle wasn’t able to put on as much weight after being forced to trudge through muddy terrain.

But if farmers did experience such production losses, it may make them eligible for emergency assistance now that the USDA has recognized the toll extreme weather conditions have taken on Illinois farmers.

Last week, the USDA declared an agriculture disaster on all 102 Illinois counties after Gov. JB Pritzker made a request in July. A natural disaster area has not been declared in an Illinois county since 2012 during a severe drought.

"Illinois farmers have experienced months of hardship due to extreme weather across the state, but today's declaration means we can begin the road to recovery," Pritzker said in a statement. "I'm heartened that the USDA has approved my request for an agriculture disaster so a vital industry that supports so many working families across the state can rebuild and continue to thrive in our state." 

With the declaration made, farmers and agri-businesses may be able to utilize low-interest Farm Service Agency loans to offset potential losses.

Farmers eligible for these emergency loans must have suffered at least a 30% loss in crop production or a physical loss to livestock, livestock products or real estate. Losses to quality, such as receiving a 30% reduced price from crops damaged by flooding, also may be eligible for assistance, according to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency website.

Borrowers can borrow up to 100 percent of actual production or physical losses to a maximum amount of $500,000.

Ziller said that when all is said and done, many farmers will be taking advantage of emergency loans, especially when accounting for the low commodity prices for various crops.

Marengo farmer John Bartman said he thinks the requirement should be lowered to between 20% and 25% in production losses, which is more attainable and probably close to the losses farmers in McHenry County suffered.

“Margins are so thin right now that it’s very difficult to stay in the black,” Bartman said.

A recent USDA report stated that agricultural producers were unable to plant crops on more than 19.4 million acres in 2019. More than 73% of this acreage came from 12 midwestern states battered by heavy rainfall and flooding.

In the state of Illinois, more than 1.5 million prevented plant acres were recorded. In McHenry County, more than 29,000 prevented plant acres were recorded, according to USDA Farm Service Agency data.

Bartman also said that farmers need to have better crop prices, which have been hindered by an ongoing trade war with China.

In July, President Donald Trump revealed details of a $16 billion bailout to reimburse farmers for lost revenue.

“McHenry County farmers want to sell their grain, not take a subsidy,” Bartman said.

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