Tough Planting Decisions Take Emotional Toll on Farmers in 2019

Farm Journal Report 06/08/19
The decision to take Prevent Plant is a tough choice this year, and it's taking an emotional toll on farmers as the financial woes mount. ( Farm Journal )

Arkansas farmer Dow Brantley is baffled by 2019.

“This is the most difficult season that I've ever experienced,” he said.  

A tough year with Mother Nature throwing out obstacles every week.

“We haven't had more than a three-day run for planting, yet,” said Brantley.

Planting progress seemed to crawl this year, turning the planting season into the unthinkable on Brantley’s farm.

“Today, I probably can say we will have half of our rice that we intended to plant will go unplanted.

The issues started last fall, when the weather began on a warpath.  

“It’s not that when it dries out we can plant it,” he explained. “When it dries, then we have to repair the ruts that we made from last September and October during harvest.”

While Brantley is still trying to push the timeline on planting, he’s come to the tough realization some acres won’t get planted at all this year. So, he’s trying to plant as much as he can, while he can, with crops that still fit. 

“We're past our late planting window for rice, but we made the decision to try to plant this week,” he said. “We need the acres, this community needs the acres.”

The forced decision to leave some acres fallow was a tough choice to make. As Brantley discussed why it was such a hard decision, you could see the stress mounting, as it was a decision that came with a lot of emotions and heartache this year.

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

It was impossible for some producers to plant all their acres this year, and the difficult decision to take prevent plant on some of the land they farm is weighing on more than just farmers.

“2019 is shaping up to be very painful financially,” said Cole Plafcan, Senior Vice President, Chief lending and Marketing Officer for Ag Heritage, Farm Credit Services.

Plafcan says he’s crunched numbers with many producers and, for the most part, taking prevent plant on some acres just doesn’t pay.

“Prevent plant is a risk management tool that is available to farmers, but it will not make them whole,” he said.

The issue is rippling across acres in more than just Arkansas. Cara Riekhof owns a crop insurance company serving 25 counties in Missouri and Kansas, and she’s witnessing the emotional and mental toll the wet spring is having on farmers.

“I've been in the business for almost 10 years, and this is the first time that I am dealing with more than just two or three prevent plant claims,” said Cara Riekhof, Crop Insurance Solutions, Higginsville, Mo

This year her office has been inundated with questions on prevent plant and what option is the best fit for each farm.

“We've done a tremendous amount of calculating in our office this year, and it doesn't work to prevent plant and just think that that's going to be the best route for you to make money on your farm.”

She said especially for farmers who’ve already paid cash rents or applied fertilizer, payments that in her area range from $190 to $300 an acre don’t pencil out. While Riekhof said the best option is different for every producer, even as the planting window closes, most are pushing to plant.

“If you have your ground ready, we've talked to a lot of people who are going to go ahead and plant here and take the decreased coverage level,” she said.

The difficult decisions are surfacing for farmers from Missouri to Michigan.

“Since Thursday night, when we got started, everybody is pretty much around the clock,” said Tom Krull, a farmer in Constantine, Mich.

Revenue isn’t the only factor weighing on a producers’ decision to plant or not, but also some who have contracted bushels they may not be able to fill with their grain buyer.

“The biggest thing is, if there's a problem, face it sooner than later,” said Angie Setzer, Citizens Grain. “It may not be the best approach that you want to take, but obviously, no one knows what this market is going to look like in three to six months. And so you just have to make the best decisions based on what you know right now, with what experience and what situation you're facing at this point.”

Those early conversations need to happen with not just your grain buyer, but your banker.

“What we what we can provide them is we can pull out the cash flows that we just went through in the early spring and run some numbers what's most profitable, because a lot of farmers have fixed costs, cash rents, they have equipment payments, they have land payments; all those have to be paid,” said Plafcan. “We want to craft some cash flows that could cure those fixed costs.”

Pinched profits are the outcome of a painful planting season, in a year where many producers are reminded to remember what matters most.

“My wife tells me every day my kids have 10 fingers and toes, so, we're doing pretty good, but I'm ready to get through this year.”