AUGLAIZE COUNTY — Jeremy Heitz, a 25-year old who farms with his father, Nick, in Auglaize County, is hopeful the 2020 planting season is better than last year.
Of the 3,000 acres they farm, they were only able to plant on 1,000 acres last year.
Wet weather kept many area farmers out of the fields, and they can’t afford another year like last year.
“Since a lot of acres did not get planted, we planted cover crops during the summer. So we’re planning to try to no-till into those cover crops as long as the weather permits because they take a little bit more to sometimes dry out the ground, some of these taller cover crops,” Heitz said.
The Heitz’s planted wheat over the winter and have plans to continue their soybean and corn rotation.
“I guess we’re keeping our heads up and just going at it and playing the cards we’re dealt,” Heitz said.
Because of last year’s disastrous planting season and the trade war with China, many farmers took advantage of the Market Facilitation Program, which provided payments to farmers hurt by the trade war. It didn’t go far enough.
“It was just a band-aid,” Heitz said.
The continued talk of a trade war is something that farmers have to deal with.
“It’s kind of out of our control as of right now, but you know, it’s hard to tell what the future is going to bring with it,” Heitz said.
Farmers plan to plant
While farmers wait until it’s OK to get into the fields, the Heitz’s are getting their equipment ready with the hope of a dry spring.
“Right now they’re getting the equipment ready and waiting for seed to arrive,” said Jeff Stachler, agriculture and natural resources Extension educator out of Auglaize County. “People are making last-minute pesticide decisions for the growing season, and those are the three major things that they’re working on right now.”
As far as the weather goes, there is some hope.
“Right now, we’re pretty wet, but we’re drier than what we were a year ago at this time,” Stachler said.
Farmers are faced with many decisions going into spring planting season dealing with anything from crop rotation to market prices to the new coronavirus.
“Certainly some are deciding based on the marketing, and that’s a little crazy right now with everything going on including the coronavirus thing and the oil prices — which is a direct relationship to the coronavirus. They’re just using the markets and history to know what to plant,” Stachler said.
Dealing with COVID-19
Agribusiness dealers also have to deal with social distancing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cargill indicated on its website that employees “are working around the clock with farmers and our customers to continue feeding the world safely, responsibly and sustainably. We are prioritizing our employees’ health and well-being, as they are essential in delivering the food we all need to stay healthy and nourished. This includes additional precautions to support staff at our production facilities, including temperature testing, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, prohibiting visitors from entering our facilities, prohibiting international travel, limiting domestic travel, adopting social distancing practices and offering shift flexibility to keep our major production facilities open.”
The Kenn-Feld Group took precautions to cut down on the potential risk to employees and customers.
In a letter posted to the Facebook page, CEO Tom Burenga outlines some things they’re doing.
“Like each of you, we have increased our safety precautions when it comes to public areas and facilities. We are cleaning and sanitizing everything our customers and employees come into contact with so we can maintain the safest environment possible,” Burenga noted.
Mercer-Landmark has closed its offices and buildings to the public and urges business be done over the phone or electronically if possible. Farmers delivering grain to their facilities are urged to call ahead to make sure they’re open.
The market volatility is something farmers need to take into consideration when they make the decision on what to plant.
“I think there’s very significant worry about what is going on with the markets,” said Clint Schroeder, OSU Extension educator from Allen County. “We’ve seen soybeans come down about $1 in the last month, corn 50 to 60 cents. There’s a lot of concern about the markets going into planting season.”
Disruptions in the supply chain, due to the COVID-19 virus, is also a factor, and the lack of significant fieldwork that farmers wanted to do in the fall factors into how the spring planting will go.
“As of right now, the forecast is for a cooler and wetter spring than what we would consider normal. So that’s definitely a concern, just the normal stuff that we deal with and then throw in the coronavirus, and it’s really starting to add up some of the stressors and concerns that are out there,” Schroeder said.
There is hope that a “phase one” trade agreement with China will start to help farmers but in the short term, the markets are in trouble.
“I feel like right now, commodities are in kind of a freefall, similar to what’s been going on in the stock market. We had an agreement with China, with the phase one trade agreement there. I guess some economists are concerned that it was going to be a document that was going to be hard to enforce. It wasn’t. A lot of things weren’t spelled out clearly on enforcement, but you know, if we would resume trade with them that would obviously be a big help for the American farmer and probably help prices some,” Schroeder said.
Farmers who tire of low prices of corn and soybeans may have explored alternative crops.
“Certainly something new for Ohio is hemp and certain small grains, whether that be barley or wheat,” said Kirk Hines, chief of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Soil and Water Conservation.
“There is an interest statewide in alternative crops, not only in hemp but also malting barley,” said Mark Badertscher, with OSU Extension in Hardin County. “The problem is these are very risky crops to grow, and the infrastructure’s not there. The markets aren’t fully there yet. We’ve had several problems.
“For example, in southern states where people have raised hemp, they harvested it, but they didn’t have a good group of buyers. So they were unable to have a good market for the sale of their hemp.”
The hoops farmers must go through to grow hemp is somewhat overwhelming.
“You’ve got to know what you’re doing because although they just rolled out the regulations, you have to apply to the Ohio Department of Agriculture for a license to grow hemp, and you also have to have each site where you plan to grow it approved. There are fees that go along with these licenses in order to raise hemp in Ohio,” Badertscher said.
Another concern deals with THC, the psychotropic compound in hemp.
“The danger with growing hemp is that if it gets over the level of THC in the product, then it becomes illegal to sell. So the hemp must be tested by the Department of Agriculture before harvest, and if it’s too high a level of THC then the crop has to be destroyed. So there’s a lot of risk with raising hemp,” Badertscher added.
Barley is another alternative crop that’s being considered by Ohio farmers.
“It may sound appealing to growers, but again, until we have good processing plants available or good markets for it, it’s kind of risky because there’s not much of a secondary market to sell barley in Ohio,” Badertscher said. “It’s not the best feed source. A livestock producer might be able to feed it (to their animals) if it gets rejected to be used for malting barley.
“Malt and barley is used to brew a lot of the craft beers in Ohio. There’s a whole list of requirements that they have as far as protein levels, as far as whether or not it will malt or won’t malt, and that can be dictated by the weather. If you don’t get the proper weather, it may not malt it so it won’t reach standards and then they can’t use it. So then you’re stuck with a load of barley that you might not be able to market.”
Room for optimism
Only time will tell if 2020 is as bad as 2019 was for farmers, but as always, farmers tend to look to the sky and believe that things will be OK.
“I think farmers are really the ultimate optimist in what they do, so I think they live every day to produce crops and grow crops. So I think that’s really what they want to do, rather than looking at other programs,” Hines said. “But you know, certainly there’s crop insurance that most producers participate in that most farmers do to create, you know, another avenue if they were not able to plant but their income obviously comes from going crops. So I think that’s certainly what they hope to do.”
Grain carriers rest near a flooded farm field along Allentown Road in Allen County recently. Area farmers hope for a better 2020 following a bad 2019 season mired in wet fields and uncertain market conditions.
An antique tractor sits near a flooded farm field along Allentown Road in Allen County.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.