There’s an old saying in farming: “knee high by the fourth of July.” It refers to the height of corn plants lining up with your knee as you walk through the field on Independence Day—and for people in farming communities, this adage is all but obsolete. New hybrids, seed treatments, and technologies have pushed planting dates earlier, expedited emergence from the soil and created a new reality in which corn is expected to be “knee high” much sooner than it was in the past. But then, years like 2019 happen … and we need to remember that “knee high by the fourth of July” used to work just fine.
Rain, rain, go away
By all accounts, 2019 is the wettest spring on record. Many farmers in Corn Belt states are still waiting for their shot to get their fields planted, or evaluating whether or not to plant at all. Many of those who did get out early are dealing with damage and making tough decisions about replanting. We at Tillable, like everyone in ag, have been closely following what’s happening (or not happening) in the fields, and we know that farmers and landowners might be feeling a lot of uncertainty right now. But we have to remember that there’s still a lot of time—and potential sun on the horizon—in the 2019 growing season.
The potential for June planting
We’re just turning the corner into June, and historically, it’s not a bad month to plant. In fact, it used to be the month that most corn seed went into the ground. Yes, the yields our grandparents were able to produce during the “knee high by the fourth of July” era were not near as high as what we expect today, and they didn’t have the quality of hybrids and millions of dollars in seed research that we benefit from today. What’s more, today’s farmers have planting equipment that allows them to get their crop in the ground in easily half the hours it used to require. Of course, there are very real considerations around crop insurance dates and other factors that influence planting decisions as we slide into June. However, a string of seven dry days can result in a lot of acres being planted—so with even a small favorable window in June, good yields are still a possibility. It might not be the record-breaking, bin-busting production of the past two years, but trendline+ yields are still feasible.
Reasons to plant
Even getting the crop in the ground with poorer than preferred field conditions has its benefits in 2019. If a farmer carries 75 to 85% revenue protection on their crop insurance, getting the acres planted allows them to exercise that protection. It may not be the profit that most farmers hope for, but it is significantly better than receiving a prevented planting payment—and the psychological impact of looking at an empty field all year.
In addition, the government payment issued to combat the tariff dispute with China is slated to be $14.5 billion in direct payments to farmers—and the big deal is that it will be based on planted acres this year, instead of production (which was the measure used in 2018). This is yet another reason farmers will not be hanging up their tractor keys quite yet: if they get their acres planted, they get their share of the payment.
The final and most important thing we need to remember this planting season is the resilience of American farmers. Their pride, optimism and work ethic mean that they’re driven to grow, not give up. This year may be challenging so far, but every day that it’s dry, they’re checking field by field and are still prepared to drop the planter in the ground to finish off this planting season.