The 2011 crop year continues to face a trifecta of weather-related anomalies that have hit America’s heartland and have cast a long shadow over the highly optimistic projections for crop yields and farm incomes.
First, there’s the historic late planting. According to Darrel Good, a University of Illinois Agricultural Economist, the percentages of the U.S. corn and soybean crop planted late this season are amongst the largest in the last four decades. The combination of wet and cold weather made it impossible for many farmers to get into their fields early in the year. This is important notes Good, because agronomic research has clearly documented a strong correlation between late plantings and lower yields, with losses accelerating downward as the planting dates get later in the season.
The second to hit is the ongoing historic flooding in the Mississippi and Missouri river basins. In the south, hundreds of thousands of acres remain unplanted, underwater, or have been so damaged that they won’t be planted at all this year. According to Warren Carter, director of commodity and regulatory affairs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, it’s likely that 40 percent of the nation's rice crop will not be planted this year. And while the Mississippi slowly drops, the Missouri is steadily rising, threatening other parts of the corn belt with inundation and destruction.
The third blow is the unremitting drought in the Southern Plains. Ron Smith with the Southwest Farm Press recently noted that “the Southwest has not had to endure all the 10 plagues of Egypt this growing season but they’ve had enough to test most folks’ religion just with dust, wind, drought and wildfires that, all combined, will result in millions of dollars of crop losses before harvests conclude." According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 42 percent of the nation’s winter wheat crop is in poor or very poor condition.
Luckily for farmers, the vast majority of these losses will be covered by crop insurance. Farmer participation in the crop insurance program continues at historically high levels, with more than 80 percent of the U.S. crop, or 256 million acres of farmland being enrolled in the program in 2010.
"It's years like this that underscore the importance of crop insurance, the linchpin of the farm safety net program," said Tom Zacharias, president, National Crop Insurance Services. "In these tight fiscal times, it's important that farmers and the public know that insurable damages and losses incurred by these floods will be covered by the crop insurance program."