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Corn planting is slow going as weather and expenses make planting risky

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ANN MARIE AMES
May 14, 2008
— Cool weather and wet fields have let farmers plant only about half of Rock County’s corn crop, UW Extension agent Jim Stute said.

Normally, farmers would be getting the very last of the corn in at this point in the spring, Stute said.


The high risk associated with this year’s very high input costs makes it even more of a nail-biter as farmers wait for fields to be ready.


A lot of high ground has been planted, but many low spots are covered in standing water and can’t be touched, he said.


Stute said spots west of Janesville and north of Evansville are the worst.


Craig O’Leary has heard the same thing. O’Leary, executive vice president of Farmers and Merchants Bank, Orfordville, said an Evansville farmer told him he might not be able to plant 10 percent of his fields this year.


It’s a difficult number to identify, O’Leary said.


“How do you measure it,” O’Leary said. “A pothole here or there.”


The optimal corn planting date is May 1, Stute said. Farmers have until May 20 to get corn in before they have to think about changing hybrids tailored to a short growing season.


The other option is to plant soybeans, which can go in later, Stute said.


Stute estimates Rock County growers will plant about 8 percent less corn than last year and plant more soybeans.


“Right now, it’s all weather dependent,” Stute said. “No one’s switching, yet.”


Harsh winter conditions killed off some of the county’s winter wheat crop, Stute said. But with wheat prices double what they were last year, more farmers don’t mind a poor yield. Wheat fields that would have been plowed under last year won’t be this year, Stute said.


Rock County growers planted 8 percent less corn in 2007 than in 2006, Stute said.


Extremely high input costs are making this spring more of a gamble than ever, Stute said.


Fertilizer prices have tripled since 2006. That’s just one expense farmers have to pay just to get a crop in the field.


In 2006, the DeLong Co. in Clinton sold dry fertilizer for $330 per ton.


This year it’s going for $1,300 per ton, DeLong’s fertilizer manager Tim Sanders said.


“(Producers) are at more risk on a per-acre basis than they were before,” said Ron Austin, assistant vice president of production agriculture at Badgerland Financial, 1705 W. Highway 14, Janesville.


Not only is it enormously expensive up front to plant crops, it’s hard to lock in a contract, Stute said.


“The big problem is with so much volatility in the market, so much money, a lot of the big grain companies are no longer offering forward contracting,” Stute said.


“That shifts the risk back to the farmers. Even though the future prices are out there, it’s really hard for (producers) to take full advantage of them.”



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