Farmers prep for spring planting amid COVID-19 market impacts

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Corn planting
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

SALEM, Ohio — This spring is far from a normal planting season. While farming is considered essential business amid COVID-19 shut downs, the global pandemic has had a dramatic effect on agriculture.

Prices for corn have dropped, following decreased demand for ethanol and exports. Lower export demands also create a weaker market for soybeans.

But with spring planting slated to begin in the next few weeks in Ohio, most farmers expect to proceed with their planting as planned.

Market impacts

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released its prospective plantings for Ohio, March 31. According to the report, Ohio farmers are planning to plant 3.70 million acres of corn, up 32% from last year, and 4.80 million acres of soybeans, up 12% from last year.

These increased numbers come after a year of wet weather, with almost 1.5 million prevented planting acres in Ohio, in 2019.

In a spring crop outlook webinar, Jim Mintert and Michael Langemeier, both of the Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture, noted that declining oil prices and gasoline usage, due to the pandemic, have also pushed down ethanol demand, and, thus, corn markets. Add in the impact on exports, and the soybean market isn’t looking great either.

“2020 does not look really very good,” Langemeier said.

Mintert and Langemeier said if there is a shift in acreage from the current numbers, it would likely be away from corn and towards soybeans.

Plans

The weakened markets, however, do not necessarily mean that farmers are changing their plans.

“Even with the recent market changes … guys can only swing acres so much,” said Ben Klick, of Windy Way Farm, in Massillon, Ohio.

He relies on about one-third to one-half of the acres that he plants to feed the cattle on his farm’s feedlot operation. He is planning to plant about 950 acres of soybeans and 800 acres of corn.

Klick said neither corn nor soybeans seem to be doing very well on paper.

“It’s just kind of a lesser of two evils,” he said.

Patty Mann, of Mann Farms, in west central Ohio, plans to plant 50% corn and 50% soybeans. That’s how her farm splits its acres every year.

“It’s probably not changed our intentions as far as how much acres of each crop,” Mann said about the pandemic. “It’s definitely affected the prices, and also our ability to move corn out.”

Hauling

Mann usually takes corn to a nearby ethanol plant, but that plant reduced its hours recently. Other ethanol plants in the area are doing similar things.

“It’s been a challenge the last couple of weeks getting anything moved,” she said. “Hauling may come to a halt, but we’ll take a day at a time and see how it goes.”

Klick’s farm also has a small trucking business, but due to weakened markets, he has seen that business slow down as well. One week, all five of the farm’s trucks were on the road. The next, only two were.

Mann takes shipments to a soybean crush plant south of her farm, but that plant has been getting slammed with soybean deliveries.

“Guys can’t haul corn, so they’re hauling beans,” Mann said.

One bright spot for both corn and soybeans, Mintert and Langemeier noted, is the steady demand for feed for livestock.

Other challenges

Klick noted that after a difficult 2019, farmers are hoping for a good spring planting season, and a large yield in the fall. But with ethanol production down, and with exports lowered, that could bring new challenges.

“If we have all this extra corn, what’s the price going to be like? It’s gonna be scary,” Klick said.

He noted that it’s important to reach out to and support friends and neighbors during challenging times.

“We can make it through it … we gotta be smart about how we do things,” he said.

Mann said she has not had any problems with getting the supplies she needs for planting this year. If a critical part of equipment for planting broke down and needed to be replaced, however, she worries that it could be a challenge to get another part with many stores closing.

Mann is also hoping to keep everyone at her farm healthy and has been upping the sanitation efforts in high-traffic areas on the farm.

“We hope the team stays healthy so everybody can do their job when it’s time,” Mann said. “We’re almost there; we’re just ready for some nice weather.”

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