MARION COUNTY – The United States Department of Agriculture released its monthly Crop Production and World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates on Monday, and the report raises questions for Northeast Missouri farmers who witnessed a year hampered by a cool, damp spring, flooding and trade uncertainty.
Marion County Farm Bureau President and local farmer Joe Kendrick said the USDA reported that 90 million acres of corn had been planted across the nation out of an expected 91 million acres. Missouri agriculture makes up a small part of the corn market, Kendrick said, but he said almost every farmer in the area is behind schedule after either planting their corn late, planting it a second time or not being able to plant at all due to land that is still saturated from flooding — and Missouri farmers were not alone in facing challenges during this year's growing season.
"There's too many states that were late planted. I just read something this morning that said right now, the corn crop in the state of Missouri is only rated at 35% excellent or good, and this time last year it was 52%," he said. "There's no way it can be rated excellent or good when its 30 to 45 days behind."
Kendrick said projections of a 13.9 billion bushel corn crop nationwide don't seem possible — he said the Missouri River inundated farms from St. Charles up to North Dakota, and the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers all swelled past their banks.
The USDA's WASDE report released Aug. 12 called for the 13.9 billion bushel figure, which was up 26 million from the July projection. The report cites a decline in harvested acres would be "virtually offset by an increase in yield."
The same date, the USDA's Farm Service Agency released a report finding that farmers were unable to to plant crops on more than 19.4 million acres this year — the highest total of "prevented plant" acres since the USDA's FSA began producing a crop acreage report in 2007 and 17.49 million acres less than the same time last year . The FSA report said more than 73% of the affected acres were located in 12 Midwestern states affected by heavy rain and flooding.
"Agricultural producers across the country are facing significant challenges and tough decisions on their farms and ranches," USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said. "We know these are challenging times for farmers, and we have worked to improve flexibility of our programs to assist producers prevented from planting."
Some corn crops on Kendrick's farm are just beginning to tassel, while another field was replanted in July. Those fields won't produce tassels for another couple weeks and they are a long way from harvest — some corn will be ready by early September, but "the vast majority" of corn won't come out of the fields until late October or November.
While the USDA's FSA report projected found a significantly reduced number of planted acres — particularly in the Midwest — the USDA WASDE report described the 2019/2020 outlook for corn as "larger supplies, reduced exports and corn used for ethanol and greater ending stocks." Corn is roughly divided into thirds — feed, ethanol and exports. The WASDE report's survey-based corn projection for the season called for 169.5 bushels per acre, which is 26 million more acres than the July projection.
"I don't know where those numbers came from, and I don't think there's a farmer out here who believes them," he said. "The market certainly reacted to it — corn took a 26-cent drop yesterday, and it's down another 17 cents right now. We've lost almost 45 cents in the market, just in the last 24 hours."
Kendrick said the agencies contact producers, and incomplete or inaccurate reports could affect the data before harvests reflect the final results. In addition to natural extremes, markets have been affected by trade wars between the U.S. and China and the yet-to-be approved Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement — which affects two of the largest purchasers of United States agricultural products.
"The numbers go all the way back to the stocks —how real are they?" he said. "With the situation in China, it's probably exaggerated a little bit more than it would be if things were normal on the trade side."
Kendrick said he was preparing to attend the Missouri Farm Bureau's Commodity Conference next week in Jefferson City, to discuss markets, weather and other topics related to next year. He felt the farm economy "was pretty lousy" in 2019, but Kendrick and fellow farmers remain optimistic and focused on the future.
"We'll see what the experts say — the economists and the weather people — and we'll start making a few decisions for next year," he said.