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Corn and Soybeans Behind, Soil Wet, Farm Economy in Trouble

I don’t know about knne-high by the Fourth, but at least most of the corn has poked its stalks out of the soil. According to the latest USDA report on South Dakota’s crop progress and condition, 96% of the corn crop had emerged by the end of June. Usually by this time, 100% of the corn is up and at ’em… so due to the late winter and wet conditions, one out of 25 corn fields is still bare and brown.

Soybeans are slower, only 82% emerged, compared with a recent five-year average of 99%. Winter wheat is dragging its feet a bit… or its head, standing 93% headed versus the average 97%. Spring wheat and oats are much further behind: spring wheat is 36% headed versus the 76% average; oats, 39% headed versus 86% average.

Watch for sunny fields in September....
Watch for sunny fields in September….

Sorghum and sunflowers are picking up a little of the crop slack. Sorghum is 99% planted, beating its 95% average. Sunflowers are 93% planted, a tick ahead of their 92% average.

Non-CAFO cattle should have some good eating, assuming they don’t get stuck in the mud. 62% of pasture and range is rated good, and 21% is rated excellent. Only 3% of the state is short of topsoil moisture, while 71% of the state has adequate topsoil moisture and 27% has surplus. Those percentages are similar in the subsoil: 3% short, 70% adequate, and 27% surplus.

As of July 2, no place in South Dakota registered any abnormally dry or drought conditions on UNL’s Drought monitor. The closest place we can find drought is up in northern North Dakota and northern Minnesota:

UNL: National Drought Mitigation Center, United State Drought Monitor Map as of July 2, 2019, issued 2019.07.03.
UNL: National Drought Mitigation Center, United States Drought Monitor Map as of July 2, 2019, issued 2019.07.03.

Aggregate crop prices remain in the same slump we’ve seen since 2015:

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, "Prices Paid and Received: Crop Farm Index by Month, US", 2010–2019, 2019.06.27.
USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, “Prices Paid and Received: Crop Farm Index by Month, US“, 2010–2019, 2019.06.27.

Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson says low prices caused by overproduction, Trump’s tariffs, and lower soybean demand due to swine flu in China appear poised to drive us into a real farm crisis starting next winter:

“I think next winter is going to be a different story,” Peterson said. “I’m hearing this from bankers.”

Peterson predicts that agriculture is heading into an economic cycle that will look like the 1980s, when foreclosures and bankruptcies put thousands of farmers out of business across the Midwest.

“It means foreclosures, it means land prices coming down, it means rent coming down,” he said. “And it could last. It could just be that this winter is the tip of the iceberg and it could get worse.”

Believing that an economic horror show was about to begin, Peterson said he tried building in extra safety nets to the new farm bill last year, but it didn’t gain needed Republican approval [Carolyn Lange, “Rep. Peterson Make Dire Predictions for Agriculture,” Ag Week, 2019.07.02].

As I hit “Publish,” it’s raining out my window again.


  1. Porter Lansing 2019-07-05 10:17

    Earthquakes? Wildfires? Mudslides? Unaffordable housing? Homeless on the street? MEH! … “Disaster is not an enduring discomfort — cold weather is an enduring discomfort. Cold weather emptied the Midwest and filled California.”
    – Kevin Starr

  2. Jenny 2019-07-05 14:46

    That’s true, Porter. Nobody really likes Winter, but I wouldn’t be able to take the dreadful humidity in the South, either. California is the place we ought to be! The Mediterranean weather is perfect there and the Mediterranean diet really is the healthiest.

  3. Porter Lansing 2019-07-05 15:45

    No kidding, Jenny. I was born in Florida and was raised in Watertown. When I grew up my Florida family couldn’t believe I didn’t move back because of all the financial advantages my family was offering me. I couldn’t take the humidity in Florida OR South Dakota. I like living in a town with no wind, no humidity, and no bugs. (One day last week it was 98 degrees with 6% humidity. Sweet.)

  4. Debbo 2019-07-05 17:52

    What I’ve seen in Minnesota fields anecdotally looks like less is planted than the SD report. I’m guessing those fields won’t be planted at all. I was shocked to see a field of oats! I haven’t seen a small grain field in eastern Minnesota since at least the 90s, and it was probably in western Minnesota.

    There is one cornfield that looks like it made knee high. There are more soybean fields than I expected, but they’re very, very short, just a few inches.

    Rep. Colin Peterson’s (D) district is north and western Minnesota and he’s right on the money, or lack of, about what’s coming for farmers. They better duck and cover! Or vote for Democrats.

  5. Debbo 2019-07-07 19:24

    It’s worse than we think. “It” being the farm economy.

    “Net farm income has declined by 50% since 2013. Median farm income for 2019 is forecast at -$1,449. You can only go so many years where the cost of production is more than the income from the product before it’s bankruptcy or, increasingly, suicide.”

    The post says farmers may be suiciding at a higher rate than military veterans.

    “In Australia a farmer dies by suicide every four days. In the U.K. it’s one a week. And in France a farmer dies by suicide every two days.”

    “In India, since 1995, 270,000 farmers have taken their lives.”

    The writer’s solution is for smaller, desperate farmers to turn to organic farming and farmer’s markets. That’s feasible for some, but not all.

    There is a good market for organic feed for organic livestock, but bogus organic imports are causing prices to fall. (John Tsitrian could tell us more about that.) Today’s Strib had an article about the fraud, often coming from eastern Europe.

    “Sales of organic food have more than doubled in the United States in the past 10 years, to $48 billion a year, but U.S. acreage devoted to organic grain has not kept up. Less than 1% of row crops in the country are certified organic, so U.S. organic grain farmers can’t produce enough feed for the animals that supply organic eggs, milk and meat.”

    “A bushel of organic soybeans fetches about $18.70 per bushel, well over double the price for conventional soy. Organic corn fetches $8.88 per bushel, about twice the price for conventional corn. And organic grain prices are down dramatically from peaks in 2012, thanks in part to imports holding down demand.

    “Meanwhile, the organic industry keeps growing, from about $2 billion in sales in 2002, to about $50 billion last year.”

  6. jerry 2019-07-07 19:52

    Great link Ms. Debbo. I think the problem lies with the bankers. I don’t think they’re keen on lending money for something they cannot get subsidies on from the government. Those billions in subsidy guarantees are pretty hard to ignore. That 8 bucks a bushel could vanish quickly too… if China says so. China agrees to buy American Soy, but China can dictate what they’re gonna pay. Now there are more players that grow the same stuff.

  7. T 2019-07-08 11:08

    As always interesting Stats Debbo
    I’m in Kansas 100 bushel wheat here but flooded in other areas
    Coming thru Nebraska was sad sad sad
    SD in trouble as well
    I don’t think it’s going to be next winter before
    We feel the crunch
    Land prices have gone down according to last
    Few auctions……
    The crunch is here

  8. T 2019-07-08 11:13

    We can’t go organic until soil has been pure
    For 5 years. This is unlikely because of
    Weeds. Those that have pure like Alfalfa
    Have a gold mine if they get on board with organic. Neighbor farmers can’t spray and get testy in small communities creates tension among the fence lines.
    Rarely in our community will you find where we can afford to
    Let land lay for 5 years
    I’m all for organic and hemp just saying it’s highly unlikely

  9. Debbo 2019-07-08 11:34

    T, the article I linked to said 3 years, rather than 5. The farmer can organically raise crops and sell them in that 3 year period, but not as organic. When the 3 years are up she must be certified before she can sell “organic.” If nonorganic spray from another field drifts across hers, she has to restart the certification process.

  10. T 2019-07-08 14:40

    Thank you yes 3 years

  11. jerry 2019-07-08 15:52

    Form cooperatives or a Granger Movement to organize farmers into growing blocs for organic growing. At $19 bucks a bushel for soybeans, you would think they would have already thought that. But the problems may be that it sounds Democratic and they cannot seem to let go of that trumpy thingy they want to keep hold of.

    If neighbors are on the same page, you would not need to spray, just cultivate by knowing what weeds are the problems. But you have to work the ground to make it work for you.

  12. Micky 2019-07-08 16:47

    Organic farmers are routinely sabotaged by neighboring farmers who will overspray their own land when conditions are right for spray drift thereby contaminating the organic land. Then they contact the state department of agriculture to document the contamination. Then the documentation mysteriously is delivered to the organic certifier. then the organic farmer has his certification suspended for three years effectively putting the organic farmer out of business. Why does this happen? Mainly because the conventional farmer resents the premium prices paid for organic production. Also the continual propaganda hatchet job by Big Chemical and their USDA flunkies. Sonny Perdue is a perfect example. This is why there is no real increase in organic acreage, even though organic consumption has skyrocketed. Does it all sound illegal and immoral? It is, but so what, this is American agriculture nowadays. One postscript, organic farmers just love hearing about conventional farmers destroying another conventional farmers crop with the new chemical Dicambia. Finally, a taste of their own medicine.

  13. Porter Lansing 2019-07-08 17:30

    Micky’s right. On top of that I can count on one hand the livestock growers who don’t secretly feed steroids, antibiotics, and other banned substances before sale. Not that all farmers are jerks but …

  14. Debbo 2019-07-08 20:18

    What Mickey said. What Porter said. Plus the eastern European pseudo organic shiploads coming into US ports.

    I’ve witnessed the willingness of farmers to sell other farmers down the creek for a little advantage when I was pastoring in the 90s-00s. Used to drive my mom and dad nuts when they were trying to organize neighbors into the NFO in the 60s.

    Farmers had a chance to save family farms then, pre-vertical integration by Big Ag. Now I don’t know what chance there is for a medium to small farmer, other than organic.

    It’s so boneheaded for farmers to sabotage their organic neighbors. That just increases scarcity and drives prices for organic food and feed even higher. 🙄🙄🙄 It’s hard to find a more stubborn knothead than a farmer.

  15. jerry 2019-07-08 20:45

    Micky, as you seem to have proof of that, the organic farmer could sue the louse who over sprayed, it is also a federal crime.

    ” The first act of what the FBI considers “economic sabotage and a violation of federal law involving damage to commercial agricultural enterprises” took place during the night of January 4, when about 1,000 weed plants on one property were uprooted. Three nights later, the destruction continued on another property, where another 5,500 pot plants were destroyed.”

    If you know that the deed was done, the culprit can be prosecuted. The Heartbreak Hotel might just make a few farmers stop doing that stupid stuff, or maybe not. Free healthcare in the slammer, three squares a day, maybe the answer to ma’s cooking.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-07-09 06:28

    Jerry identifies one of the challenges of beating the ag-industrial complex: small independent farmers can only beat the machine by working together, by forming their own cooperative machine.

  17. jerry 2019-07-09 08:00

    Farmers could make it work..if they wanted to work their ground organically. Many already do just that and the work pays off for their efforts, right here in South Dakota.

    “FRANKFORT, S.D. — Conservation is a conscious choice for the Johnsons, this year’s winner of the South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award. Alan and Mickie, son Brian and wife Jamie farm 1,800 acres of cropland and 500 acres of grassland.

    The focus on conservation at Johnson Farms started with the decision to go 100% no-till after Alan grew tired of watching the lack of moisture on their farm limit yield potential.”

    Organic fertilizer for these kinds of farming operations? Got that covered as well and have for decades. Nothing new here. Just work the ground to make the earth worms work it for you. Those rascals know how to do stuff that make your crop productive and worth more.

    “Organic farming is all about strategy — a strategy we’ve helped farmers manage for over 30 years. Our organic fertilizers and soil amendments fit within a system designed to improve your soil’s productive capacity and help you grow more resilient crops. Many farmers transition to organic production to pursue price premiums; with our approach — high-production organic farming — we can help you pursue high yields as well.”

    Come on in farmers, make your situation better so you’re not dependent on the government to allow you to farm. “May 8, 2012 – Author: Dan Rossman, Michigan State University Extension

    Organic farmers fight weeds every year. It is one of their biggest challenges. During summer farm tours it is exciting to see a “clean” organic field and hear about the farmer’s weed control strategy. It is also exciting to attend a winter organic conference trade show and see innovative weed control tools that look very promising.

    Some farmers make weed control look easy, however, the reality is that every farm, field, soil type, crop and year is different. Organic farmers need to understand their own situation and utilize multiple control methods to reduce their weed problem risk. The foundation of an organic weed control strategy should take into consideration these basic tactics.”

  18. Debbo 2019-07-09 13:40

    There’s a YouTube channel, The Swedish Homestead,, that I watch often. The man is a Swede, his wife is American. Their farm is in Sweden and it’s organic.

    He’s very good about his farming methods. Chicken and pigs do a lot of the tilling of vegetable garden spaces. He’s only got about 8-10 Scottish Highland cattle. He milks one and rotates their pasture every day.

    All of his methods could be scaled up for a bigger operation. Much of it is exactly what the older ones of us remember from the 60s and earlier.

    Many places today are using goat herds to knock down invasive and noxious weeds. We used our sheep and electric fence to get around the outbuildings, iron racks, old machinery lot, etc.

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