‘Somber’ farmers feeling ‘defeated’

Wet, cold spring hurts planting across region

In this May 25, 2019 photo, flooding is shown near a farm in Frankenmuth, Mich. The Michigan Legislature on Thursday, June 20, 2019 voted to allocate $15 million to a low-interest loan program to help farmers who face financial losses because wet weather is making it hard to plant crops. (Cole Waterman/Saginaw News via AP)

ALPENA — A prolonged spring of cold, rainy weather has made it difficult for farmers throughout the state and the region to get their crops planted on time.

About 90% of Michigan’s corn and 70% of Michigan’s soybeans were planted as of June 23, according to the weekly Michigan Crop Weather report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Agricultural Statistics Service Great Lakes Region.

Christian Tollini, who will take over as the agricultural educator for the Michigan State University Extension office in Presque Isle in July, reports Northeast Michigan crop conditions to the USDA.

Tollini said that, while farmers in the region are behind in their planting, they are doing a little better than farmers in the other parts of the state, because there have been a couple decent windows for planting in the region. He said there was one window toward the end of May and then another window a couple of weekends ago when farmers were able to plant their fields with crops.

“What I’m seeing from stands that were planted early is that there was some seedling loss, but not enough to ruin the entire stand,” he said. “This is in the case of soybeans. They’re not as tolerant for the cool, wet ground as corn can be, but I have seen some stand loss but not enough to warrant a replant.”

Tollini said the cold weather is an even bigger problem than how much rain the region has received.

Waylon Smolinski, who co-owns Smolinski Green Acres Farm Inc. in Lachine with his parents, Dan and Marlene Smolinski, grows the crops that are sold at their farm and feed store such as corn, soybeans, navy beans, and wheat, among other crops.

Smolinski said the worst thing about it being it being wet and cold is that seeds will rot in the ground. He said the seeds can take a lot of water, but not when the temperature is below 50 degrees.

Corn is typically planted by May 1 and soybeans are typically planted by May 7, according to Smolinski, who says many farmers in the area weren’t able to plant corn until the middle of May — if they were lucky — and many farmers are still trying to plant soybeans.

He said the problem for farmers is that the government has cutoff deadlines for when corn must be planted for the crop to be insured. The cutoff date for corn and for soybeans has already passed.

Smolinski said insurance companies consider farmers who plant after the cutoff date to be too much of a risk and won’t insure their crops. He said many farmers plan to plant their fields into July, but that all the risk will be on them. Those farmers also wouldn’t qualify for any disaster payments, because they planted past the insurance deadline.

Smolinski said he and his crew were lucky enough to get their crops in on time, with the last planting of beans occurring on Sunday, the cutoff deadline for the crop.

“Even though we’re done, most guys aren’t done around here,” he said. “They have something to plant, whether it’s a navy bean or a black bean, they didn’t get their corn in. I just went to a farm where a guy put six huge containers of soy beans on his seed dealer’s trailer, he’s returning them.”

Smolinski said that farming right now is “as stressful as its ever been.” He describes the mood in the farming community as “somber” and says many farmers he has spoken to are feeling defeated.

“They always say farming is like gambling, but this year is real,” he said.

Even if farmers got their crops planted on time, they weren’t planted in ideal conditions, Smolinski said.

The crop weather report says most producers have finished planting corn, but reporters noted that many fields were showing signs of stress because of water-logged and oversaturated soil. Additionally, the condition of soybeans were reported to be declining because of excessive soil moisture.

“It’s so wet,” he said. “This is the first year I can remember ever in my life that, when you’re planting and digging the seed depth, it’s solid water down in the ground, the water table is so high.”

The report also stated that more farmers in the state opted for preventive planting last week because of the continual unfavorable planting conditions. Crop insurance companies offer preventive planting coverage when flooding prevents planting, which is determined on a case-by-case basis, according to the USDA.

The Associated Press reported last week that the Michigan Legislature voted to allocate $15 million to a low-interest loan program designed to help farmers who face financial losses because the weather. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign the bill.

Whitmer also sent a letter to the U.S. Agricultureal Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting a secretarial disaster designation for Michigan from the USDA, according to press release from the governor’s office. The letter also asks for added flexibility under the Federal Crop Insurance Program and the recent disaster legislation passed by Congress.

“Michigan farmers are in a state of crisis right now because of the extraordinary weather conditions, from historic rainfall, extreme cold, excessive snow, flash flooding and tornadoes,” she said in the release. “Michigan has a rich history in agriculture, and on behalf of our farmers, our families and our economy, we need to take action now.”

Whitmer also stated she’s eager to partner with the federal government to make sure farmers have the support they need during this difficult time. Michigan is currently in the midst of the third-wettest year in state history.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.