Farm flooding ripples across economy

Seeds, silos, semi drivers also see losses as farmers throw up hands

Many Illinois farms remain flooded, and farmers are weighing their options for a lost crop. (Twitter/Illinois Farm Bureau)

Many Illinois farms remain flooded, and farmers are weighing their options for a lost crop. (Twitter/Illinois Farm Bureau)

By Ted Cox

Buffeted by heavy rains and President Trump’s continuing trade wars, many Illinois farmers are throwing up their hands on planting, with the effects to be felt by seed firms, silo storage companies, and semi-trailer drivers who typically transport crops that likely won’t be harvested this year.

The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture Crop Progress report compiled through last week and released Monday afternoon found that 88 percent of the state’s corn crop was in the ground, up from 73 percent the week before. Still, for each of the last five years the entire crop was in the ground by this time of the year.

Some 74 percent of the corn had emerged from the ground, up from 51 percent the week before, but that was still off the 99 percent average over the last five years. Some 45 percent of the crop was rated good, 34 percent fair, but 11 percent was considered poor and 4 percent very poor.

Soybeans suffered worse, with 70 percent of the state crop in the ground, much improved from the 49 percent registered the week before, but still off the 99 percent of last year and the five-year average of 95 percent. Only half the crop had sprouted, doubling the quarter registered the week before, but well below the 93 percent of last year and the five-year average of 88 percent.

Reuters reported over the weekend that dozens of corn farmers met recently in Deer Grove to commiserate at what they called a “Prevent Plant Party.” “Prevent plant” is one of the grounds for crop-insurance claims, meaning a farmer has been prevented from planting, and according to Reuters many corn farmers are already giving up on this year’s crop and planning to make those claims. Seeds are being returned to firms, and silo owners who typically store crops and truckers who typically transport them figure to feel the effect later in the year from the diminished harvest.

According to Reuters, Bureau County east of the Quad Cities has the fourth-highest risk of all U.S. counties in corn acres that could go unplanted this year, trailing only three even soggier counties in Nebraska.

Driven by still more rain and pessimistic forecasts, U.S. corn futures hit their highest price in five years on Friday, but farmers who can’t produce a crop of course won’t benefit from the higher prices, which are driven by a diminished expected supply in the fall.

As farmers weighed their options — including delayed planting, shifting crops, and putting in claims for crop insurance — the Illinois Farm Bureau produced a webinar and news stories laying out those options and the complex nature of trying to figure out which course is best for each individual farmer.

Weather or not, soybean farmers weren’t seeing higher prices for their goods, as market prices remain depressed from Trump’s continuing trade war with China, a top importer of U.S. soybeans in general and Illinois soybeans in particular. Soybean farmers have previously dismissed the Trump administration’s government handouts for the effects caused by his trade wars, saying they want “trade, not aid.” But the consequences could prove to be long-term, persisting for years.

Illinois Soybean Growers President Lynn Rohrscheib attended an event last week in Iowa that included the president. Pointing out that “Illinois soybean farmers are seeing some of the lowest prices for their crop in years,” she repeated the group’s plea that “Illinois farmers want long-term relief from the year-long market uncertainty we have faced.”


“Time and time again, severe weather strikes a community in Illinois, causing unspeakable damage, yet our state struggles to receive aid from the federal government.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Rohrscheib released a statement saying: “As Illinois soybean producers work to plant this year’s crop under uncertain market conditions and uncertain weather, we are eager to hear President Trump’s plans and ideas. With a lingering trade war, Illinois Soybean Growers remains engaged with legislators and administration officials who can help our producers by ending the trade war with China and by bringing back long-term market stability. The impacts of the tariff war and the wet spring are being felt by soybean farmers and rural communities across our state.”

According to Rohrscheib, 43,000 Illinois soybean farmers “rely on trade to maintain their livelihoods.” She added, “Increasing exports of soybeans and other agricultural products would be a positive way to reduce our trade deficit with China and support farmers’ profitability.”

On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin reintroduced what they called the Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act in response to what they perceive as an inequity in how disasters are declared and areas made eligible for funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If passed into law, it would require FEMA to be “more transparent and equitable to small and rural communities in larger states like Illinois,” according to a release put out by Durbin’s office.

“Time and time again, severe weather strikes a community in Illinois, causing unspeakable damage, yet our state struggles to receive aid from the federal government after the fact,” Durbin said in a statement. “This is unfair and wrong. We can fix the broken metrics FEMA uses to determine disaster assistance and bring fairness back into the system so that people in Illinois aren’t left footing the entire bill.”

“As Americans, it’s our responsibility to support one another in times of need, especially when our communities are devastated by disasters and severe weather,” Duckworth added. “Unfortunately, the current FEMA formula fails to provide many smaller, rural communities in Illinois with the resources they need to rebuild and recover. Disasters don’t discriminate against communities based on their population size and what state they live in — and neither should FEMA. This legislation will make much-needed reforms so Illinoisans in every corner of the state can receive the resources and support they deserve after severe weather strikes.”

According to the release, Gov. Pritzker has declared disaster areas in 34 of the state’s 102 counties, while activating 400 Illinois National Guard troops and three around-the-clock response teams to combat the flooding.