Ken Ferrie Says 2019 Will Be a Struggle All the Way to the Finish

Farm Journal Report 7/6/19
After an already challenging year, Ken Ferrie says it's a fight to the finish, but reminds producers it's not undoable, and he has some advice to get farmers already thinking about a challenging harvest. ( Farm Journal )

2019 has already been a year full of emotions, sparked by weather woes sticking with farmers the entire growing season.

“It shouldn't be this hard,” said Don Rief, a farmer from Western Iowa. “We struggle, and that's what's hard."

 “It's the worst I've ever seen,” said Rob Korff, a farmer in Norborne, Mo.

 “It’s pretty much been a wreck,” said Richard Palmer, a Wellsville, Kan. Farmer. “Too much rain since this spring. We can’t get anything done. We can’t get spraying done, couldn’t get the nitrogen on.”

The struggling sentiments are shared by farmers across the country, as producers continue to be baffled by 2019.

“This is the most difficult season that I've ever experienced,” said Dow Brantley, a farmer in England, Ark.

Crop issues started before planting even kicked off. For farmers in Arkansas, the rains picked up last fall, and didn’t give up, meaning little field work got done before spring arrived. The late start and constant rains mean he will leave some of his acres fallow for the first time ever, adding to the stress this year.

“It's hard; it's emotional,” said Brantley as tears filled his eyes. “It's more than me and my family. It's been stressful. I've never been through this. We have 30 some odd employees who have families. We have crop consultants who depend on us and who won't get paid because it's fallow. We have an aviation industry that depends on us to have a crop. They need a crop and we won't have it.”

The planting pain continued as the season crawled on, with some still planting today.

”We are a third to a fourth planted on beans, zero corn acres,” said Eric Klein, farmer in Malinta, Ohio. “I don't have any corn in the ground this year."

“We have maybe 80 acres or 100 acres of corn planted and maybe 200 acres of beans planted,” said Nate Like, a farmer in Hamler, Ohio.

More than agonizing issues in the fields, some also battled flooding this year, washing away hopes of a crop early in the season.
"You hate seeing the farm like this,” said Derek Hoetfelker, who farms in Hooper, Neb.

“This was a 500-year flood. Hopefully, I never see anything like this again."

From floods to monsoon rains, Kevin Heikus with IN10T ag, a company that manages field trials across the U.S., has seen it all. He says he traveled six weeks straight this spring and summer, seeing variability not just field to field, but in the same field. He said getting an accurate grasp on crop conditions is tough, as variability is the headline.

“From what I’ve seen this year, is it feels like it's the year of audibles,” said Heikus. “It feels like farmers have to call audible after audible on those fields. They always have a game plan. And then what happened this year is that game plan constantly changed.”

The widespread issues even have Farm Journal agronomist Ken Ferrie astonished by what he’s seeing in the fields this year.

“I have not seen the whole country pushed back (with planting) like we are this year,” said Ferrie. “This is of massive scale.”

Ferrie said the major delays could eat into yields, as the crops won’t have as much time to mature.

“48% of the nation was planted month to a month and a half late,” said Ferrie. “When we talk about corn, you can't expect trendline yields or a APH. You have to pull 30 to 35 bushels out of the yield number on your farm, because we just don't have the time to build the starches that we're going to need later.”

The immature crop is creating a year of “firsts” for many; first time events producers hope they never have to relive.

“For the first time in my career, we have more corn in my territory that will be lower than ‘knee high by the Fourth of July,’” said Ferrie.  “We got good stands in our June crops, but we have very small crops, and we also have very small soybeans. So, it’s a situation where we're just basically a month, month and a half behind.”

The crop is not only late, but susceptible to problems. The cool, wet season so far means conditions are ripe for disease.

“Unfortunately, I have to tell you, it's going to be a struggle all the way to the finish,” said Ferrie. “You mentally need to prepare yourself, there's going to be challenges thrown at us with this late planted corn, late planted beans, and we're just going to have to deal with it. Now, they're not unbearable, but it's something that we just need to plan on. Don't expect next week it's all going to be over.”

From pests to weeds, Ferrie said controlling the massive issues in fields will throw another challenge into 2019.

“We're going to have weed control issues, because we're running out of some of our labeled options, as to when we can spray  and what we can spray based on the label and based on cropping restrictions,” said Ferrie. “It starts to change the mix up of how we're going to manage those weeds, and we might have to think about things like row crop cultivators and stuff like that.”

Ferrie said from an agronomic perspective, the perfect weather recipe for the crop from here on out, would be heat, but not too much heat.

“What would be a perfect finish would actually be timely rains, a lot of good GDUs per day, and moderate temperatures when it comes to the heat side,” said Ferrie. “What would be a disaster? Oh, that could be hot and dry, low humidity situations where we put this crop under a lot of heat stress and temperature stress.”

Another curveball to the growing season could come this harvest. Ferrie thinks it’s not too early to craft plan B or C when it comes to lining up drying capacity for what could be an extremely wet corn crop.

“If we're going to wait for it to dry down, that could be after Christmas or into the new year, and that could bring a lot of harvest issues,” said Ferrie. “So, I think as a as a community, we need to think about how we're going to handle wet corn this year and what it’s going to take it get that done.”

2019 may be a challenging year, but Ferrie encourages producers to not give up. A

“One thing I want everybody to remember is we never walk away from a growing crop,” said Ferrie. “We fight that fight to the finish.”

It’s a fight that may not come without more emotions and struggles.

“I can tell you it's a fight to the finish at this point, but it's not undoable,” said Ferrie. “It's just something you mentally need to prepare yourself for and realize this is the way it is, and that's why only 2% of the population are farming.”

Perseverance and resilience, as farmers continue to weather the storm in 2019.