Weather vs. farmers: Record-setting rains have meant a late start for corn farmers

Sunday, May 29, 2011
Eric Priggel of Priggel Farms sits in a field of two-week-old corn Wednesday, May 25, 2011 in Oran. Heavy rains destroyed the first crop of corn Priggel Farms planted in late March. (Laura Simon)

What promised to be one of the most profitable years in history for local corn farmers is getting a late start and will likely result in lower yields.

April's record-setting 20 inches of rain either kept farmers out of their fields or washed away corn they had already planted.

With drier weather in the past two weeks, Southeast Missouri has gone from having 43 percent of its corn planted on May 8 to 77 percent planted as of May 22, according to USDA crop progress reports.

Typically, all of Southeast Missouri's corn is planted by the end of April. Most crop insurance requires corn to be planted by May 25.

At the Priggel farm, near Oran, Mo., Eric Priggel said they've spent the past two weeks replanting 90 percent of their corn.

"It had a beautiful, perfect stand. Then this came," Priggel said of his first batch of corn planted in late March.

First came the rain, then hail, then more rain, then more hail, then flooding left some of his fields looking like a lake, he said.

"It rained so much it left the beds flat and left the corn plants with their roots showing," Priggel said. "I've never seen that before."

Mike Geske of Matthews, Mo., who serves on the National Corn Growers Association board of directors, said this year has been "extremely challenging" for farmers. With prices at historically high levels, Geske said, he's never seen such optimism coming into a growing season.

In the past year, corn has nearly doubled in price from less than $4 a bushel in May 2010 to $7.58 a bushel Friday.

"It could have easily been our best year ever," Geske said. "It still can be a good year for many, many farmers."

But by planting this late, Priggel knows he won't get maximum yields from this year's crop. The later corn is planted, the more likely it is to have pollination problems in the steamy summer heat.

"It just doesn't pollinate when it gets that hot," Priggel said. "You'll end up with an ear only half full."

Late planting will also mean this corn will need to be fertilized about the same time they'll be trying to get soybeans planted.

Corn is typically harvested at the end of August, but that will be delayed, too.

"Crops will stack up and be ready to harvest at the same time. It will be a challenging fall," Geske said.

Along with postponing corn planting, April's storms and rain caused severe damage to wheat crops already growing in Southeast Missouri.

As of May 22, 55 percent of Southeast Missouri's wheat was in poor or very poor condition and another 31 percent was in fair condition, according to USDA crop progress reports.

"There's a lot of wheat out there that is just not going to be any good," said Kenneth Vowels, Scott County director for the USDA Farm Service Agency in Benton, Mo. "Farmers have destroyed some wheat already. It's just not worth keeping. They're clearing off those fields to plant beans."

Many Southeast Missouri farmers are still unable to plant at all as their fields remain flooded, nearly a month after the Mississippi River crested at 46.28 feet in Cape Girardeau.

In Scott County, about 63,000 acres are still under water near Commerce, Mo., Vowels said.

Farmer Brian Gilpin said there is still about 3 feet of water standing in his fields at Commerce, where a privately owned levee broke May 2.

Gilpin said he's not sure when or how the levee will be repaired, but they will apply for federal assistance.

It's unlikely any of these farmers will get a crop in this year, Vowels said.

Farmers in Mississippi County are hopeful they will be able to plant soybeans once waters recede in the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway.

Thirty to 40 percent of the 130,000 acres flooded when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intentionally breached the Birds Point levee are still underwater, said Robert Jackson, a Mississippi County commissioner who farms 1,200 acres in the floodway.

"As soon as a spot of ground gets dry it will get planted," he said. "We've got to try to do something."

By the time the land is workable, it will be too late for corn, forcing farmers to switch to soybeans. Soybeans are typically planted through July 10, Jackson said.

Of Jackson's 1,200 acres on five farms in the floodway, there is one 350 acre block where the water is off now.

"It's very frustrating," Jackson said. "The men are tired of standing around the shop looking at each other."

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

Oran, Mo.

Commerce, Mo.

Wyatt, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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