Farmers behind as insurance deadlines loom

The Franklin farmer usually has all 400 acres of his corn planted by mid May.

This spring, the rain came. And came. And came, until April and May saw just as many rainy days as dry days.

Chris Hendricks hustled to plant his 400 acres of corn and 400 acres of soybeans over the weekend, finally getting most of his crops planted by the first weekend in June. He changed 25 acres of his crop from corn to soybeans to help make the corn planting deadline set by insurance companies to cover farmer’s corn crops.

Farmers across Indiana and locally in Johnson County have felt the pinch and pressure to get corn planted by Thursday, which is the last day farmers have to get the seed in the ground so insurance companies will cover that crop.

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Also looming is what subsidies they will get from the federal government to offset the impact of tariffs, but whether crops need to be planted by a certain date, and what that date is, is unknown.

Rain has made it difficult for farmers to make their insurance deadline and the number of planted crops is now far behind what Indiana has seen in the last five years.

About 31% of expected corn acres in Indiana had been planted by Sunday, which is the latest data available, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

This time last year, 98% of Indiana’s corn was planted. Soybeans are faring worse, with 17% planted now. Ninety percent was planted by the same time last year, according to the data.

An abnormally rainy planting season shortened the amount of time farmers could get out into their fields to do the work, Michael Dora, Indiana director for the United States Department of Agriculture said.

"The field conditions are not correct and the farmers get half a day or a day and it rains again," he said.

May actually had a below average amount of rain in Franklin, with under five inches falling in May. The normal amount is more than 5.5 inches, Marc Dahmer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis said. 

April in Franklin was rainier than usual, with more than six inches of rain falling, when the normal is 4.26 inches of rain, Dahmer said.

Both months may have seemed wetter than usual, because the number of days that had measurable rain was above average, with 15 days of rain in April and 16 in May, he said.

"What throws people is the number of days we had precipitation that makes it seems like it was high," Dahmer said.

In the last week, farmers had just over two days that were deemed suitable for field work, according to USDA data. Last week, farmers had less than two dry days to work on planting their crops.

Consecutive rainy days make it difficult for farmers to get out into the fields to get their crops planted, Hendricks said.

Farm equipment gets stuck in mud and farmers must wait for the fields to dry before they can potentially start planting again, he said.

"The ground is so wet, you cannot even drive over it," Hendricks said. "It hasn’t been anywhere near ideal conditions."

The typical planting and growing season for most corn is April 1 to Sept. 1. Farmers must get any crops they want covered by insurance planted by June  6, Dora said.

Farmers can usually begin harvesting their corn around the first week of September and must get the corn in by the first hard frost or risk losing the entire crop, he said.

“If corn does not reach maturity and we get into a killing frost, it really has no value after that," Dora said.

Farmers who signed up for insurance earlier in the year may still have options if they do not get their fields planted this week. They could get an insurance pay out for not getting their crops in, but it will not be the same as having a successful harvest, Dora said.

“It will give them some relief, but not like having a crop and selling it beyond fall," he said.

Local farmers have been feeling the stress to meet today’s insurance deadline to get crops planted, Hendricks said.

Insurance companies will only insure crops that are in the ground by this week, because the likelihood of having a high yielding crop reduces past this week, Hendricks said.

"This is kind of the schedule that we have been working off of," he said.

In the last weeks of May, corn fields in Johnson County that were normally weeks into growing sat empty and farmers spent hours upon hours in their fields trying to meet the planting deadline.

Some have lost sleep and the worry to get the planting done has been affecting farmers in the region, Hendricks said.

"We had to do all of it a very short period of time, (which) makes it stressful and we have not been getting a lot of sleep," he said.

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Here is a look at the amount of acres soybean and corn acres that have been planted so far across Indiana.

June 2

Corn: 31%

Soybeans: 17%

This time last year:

Corn: 98%

Soybeans: 93%

Five year average:

Corn: 94%

Soybeans: 80%

Last week:

Corn: 22%

Soybeans: 11%