Washed Out?

Heavy spring rains delayed, prevented crops from being planted

Farmers, producers and consumers in Michigan are feeling the impact of the seemingly incessant rains and cool temperatures that descended on the state in the spring and through the early part of summer.

Because of the third-wettest year in the state’s history, farmers were mostly unable to get their planned crops planted, or did so in wet soil, which affected yields. Wet hay and a shortage of feed crops played havoc with livestock producers.

And people who buy agricultural products, from sweet corn to ice cream, are likely to feel the pinch in the grocery aisle with increased prices on Michigan-grown items.

Andy Todosciuk, owner of Andy T’s Farm in St. Johns, said the great amount of rain is something that hasn’t been seen in Michigan in generations.

“None of us have lived through anything like this,” Todosciuk said in June while planting soybeans in less-than-ideal soil. “We had a similar situation in 1992, when Mount St. Helens blew, and I can understand that, but this is all caused by a weather pattern.

“Some of the old timers remember a five-year period when it was really wet in the 1950s and 1960s,” he said. “Some farmers who are 78 or 80 years old have told me about that time.”

Theresa Sisung, associate specialist with the Field Crop and Advisory Team at Michigan Farm Bureau, agreed that the soaked spring is historically unusual.

“I had one farmer who has been farming for 60 years say he never saw a string of weather like this,” Sisung said. “Nobody has much to compare this to.”

Sisung had just received the most recent crop report and explained the numbers are hard to pin down just because of the verbiage used in collecting the crop report. 

It’s the conditions ratings that are concerning.

“The ratings show only 40% of corn is in good to excellent condition, 38% of the soybean crop and 38% of the wheat,” she explained. “That shows us what is planted is struggling.”

Todosciuk said farmers across the board will see less yield because of the weather pattern, noting in mid-June that strawberry growers were still waiting for their berries to ripen, which needed more heat than Mother Nature was providing.

“The sweet corn yield will be a third less than last year,” said Todosciuk, who is famous for his Andy T’s corn. “We missed the traditional planting and it isn’t even tasseling yet. It isn’t even close. I usually figure we should have sweet corn by July 15th or 20th, but now it is looking late July. I can’t be sure until I see a tassel.”

He said prices would rise, but not on account of producers.

“Unfortunately, stores control a lot of our prices,” he explained. “Farmers always get nicked on in the end. There will be a ripple effect. We are already struggling and now we’re getting kicked in the teeth again.” Sisung agreed about the impact on both farmers and consumers.

“This will have a huge trickle effect,” she noted. “You have people trying to plant crops, dairy farmers struggling to get hay made. There was a winter kill on alfalfa and they are encountering difficulty finding forage for their animals.

“It is also affecting agribusiness, with farmers returning their unused seed and not using as much fertilizer,” Sisung added. “This will trickle down and eventually affect the consumer.”

Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, said farmers are not the only players in agriculture who will feel the crunch. 

“Overall, it’s creating some issues with both producers and agribusiness in that there are not going to be the usual amount of products sold,” Byrum explained, referring to seed and fertilizer. “Sales are not going to be where they usually are, retail operations won’t be where they normally are, equipment sales will be down.”

Byrum said the positive condition numbers for corn and soybean are usually in the 70% or 80% range this time of year.

“Farmers are going to rely on government assistance more than ever in our history,” he noted.

Byrum said while the corn and soybean yields will be significantly lower, he explained that consumers might not be overly impacted by the shortages.

“In reality, corn is primarily used as livestock feed and to produce ethanol, and soybeans are used primarily as livestock feed,” he said. “The dairy industry will see higher food costs, but we have excess production of milk in Michigan right now. Overall, any increase in milk prices will probably be minimal.” 

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