Ten days ago, 3 inches of rain poured from the skies over Wood County, and “that clinched it,” said Jim Bostdorff.
“We returned the corn on Monday,” he said. “This’ll be the first time in 60 years we’ve farmed this land that there won’t be a corn crop.”
One hundred years ago, maybe even 50 years ago, most of you who are reading this would’ve gasped, and intrinsically understood that what’s bad for our area farmers typically ends up being bad for the rest of us, too.
But in the past century, most of us who don’t farm have become sort of divorced from understanding just how foundational agriculture is to our local, state and regional economy.
And what’s bad for families like the Bostdorffs can end up being bad for the rest of us, too.
For those of us who don’t rely on the weather to make a living, it’s seemed like a wet spring. But for those who do, it’s been a historic spring.
“This is the worst spring ever, for me,” Bostdorff said. “1989 would be number two. That year, May was a wash. I remember in ‘89, I stopped planting on June 28, and stepped off the soybean drill and right onto the combine.”
It’s not just here, either. Rains and flood across the Midwest have wiped out the corn season for many farmers in the corn belt.
For farmers to get the best crop insurance possible, corn needed to be planed by June 6. After that date, farmers have to make a decision to either let the ground remain completely unplanted, or to plant an alternate crop.
And that’s where things get really tricky.
“Lots of guys will flip corn to soybean,” Bostdorff said.
But there’s a catch.
“We already don’t really have a soybean market. Now you flip, and we could crush the soybean market.”
The soybean market has already been depressed; increased production in other countries and Chinese tariffs as part of the “trade war” have kept soybean prices low. Increased soybean planting in place of corn planting could push the prices to historic lows.
The downstream effects of this throughout the agriculture sector of the economy will be profound.
Seed companies. Fertilizer and treatment companies. Machinery service and dealers. Grain elevators. These institutions employ thousands in our region; all will be taking a massive hit. And when those folks don’t have money to spend in area shops, restaurants, services, entertainment — that’s when it starts to hit people who don’t work with the land for a living. But it’s not where it ends.
Ultimately, some of the costs will show up in increased food prices.
“It’s hard to see how the consumers won’t feel it,” Bostdorff said.
For many farmers, it’s hard not to take a year like this a little personally.
“Even in years where the price is poor, it feels good to raise a crop,” Bostdorff said. “And now, to sit and watch the weeds grow, it can get to you.”
So this week, as you drive past those fields of water and weed, spare a thought for the farmers. And remember, we’re all in this. Together.