INDIANAPOLIS — This time a year ago, Indiana farmers had a lot of unanswered questions as they entered the second month of the COVID-19 pandemic. Would they be deemed essential workers? Could they get the parts they needed for their equipment? Was a farm recession looming? Inputs were already put down and paid for, so worries of loss of income and severe stress were prevalent.
“Last year was a big challenge,” said Kevin Cox of TST Farms in Parke County and INFB member. “My workers were socially distanced while planting and each in their own piece of equipment, which was horrible for efficiency, but health and safety was the main concern.”
As the pandemic progressed, farmers faced more challenges. There was disruption to the meat supply, as processing plants closed due to the rapidly escalating number of COVID-19 cases among their workforce. An interruption of processing put the American food supply chain in jeopardy and created a supply back-up, which became increasingly unmanageable and threatened the survival of many livestock farms.
The pandemic also triggered a widespread global shutdown of economic activity that depressed demand and disrupted supply chains for many commodities.
“Commodity prices were low,” said INFB member Aaron Benton of Benton Farms in Spencer County. “You were worried about how much money you were going to lose rather than making a profit.”
Fast forward 12 months and the outlook is much better as we head into spring planting 2021.
Supply and demand have returned with the reduction of tariffs in China and projected record agricultural exports. According to USDA’s Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, increased exports are forecasted in every major commodity group and to every key region across the globe, with crop acres expected to increase for corn, soybeans and wheat leading to higher crop prices. This growth is also influenced by the return of large purchases from China since the ‘phase one’ trade agreement, specifically for soybeans, corn and pork.
“The increase in commodity prices should result in increased profitability, which really helps farmers’ frame of mind and brings an optimistic outlook to planting this year,” said Kendell Culp, Indiana Farm Bureau vice-president and owner of Culp Family Farms in Jasper County, where he raises corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs.
Farmers also are encouraged by the positive results of the 2020 harvest. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, Indiana corn production in 2020 totaled 982 million bushels, 21% above 2019, and soybean production totaled 329 million bushels, up 21% from 2019.
“I finished out 2020 with the best crop of my life,” said C.J. Fleenor, an INFB member who grows corn and soybeans in Orange County. “I’m very optimistic that 2021 will be a profitable year with great prices and a good market now that the pandemic is moving behind us.”
Farmers also are excited about the weather, as most areas of Indiana are projected to have favorable conditions for planting. Southern Indiana farmers note that soils are expected to get warmer each day and moisture has improved compared to last year’s planting months.
“The weather has been phenomenal. The early field work is already done and preparations are underway,” said Fleenor. “I’m planning to start planting in the next week or two. The ground is ready before I am!”
As we head into this year’s spring planting, there are still a few uncertainties, including fuel prices and the potential for a drought creeping its way east from the western corn belt. But overall, farmers feel confident about a good season and are willing to try something new.
“Farmers are eternal optimists. We also are risk-takers,” explained Culp. “When crop prices are good, there is more of an opportunity to take a risk and try something different such as a new fungicide or soil product. Under the right conditions, it may pay off.”
Benton agrees and is going to invest in more drainage tile this year in order to return a better crop yield.
“Allowing the excess moisture to drain out of the soil profile causes the roots to grow better,” said Benton. “We tried it a bit last year and the yield was much better. We expect the crops to be ready two weeks ahead of time this year because of it.”
Simply planting crops ahead of time could pay off to make the most of the season.
“I’m going to try to plant really early beans as soon as I can get in the field,” said Cox. “They may freeze, and I might have to replant. But I’m willing to take a few more chances this year because I have a bit more wiggle room.”
Motorists may encounter farmers, like Cox, on slow-moving farm equipment on the roadways as farmers return to the fields for planting season. Drivers should be cautious, patient and alert with farm machinery on the roads. Most farmers will pull over to let vehicles pass, but it may take time for them to do so safely.
“We hope that by bringing awareness to the upcoming planting season, everyone can stay safe on the roads this spring,” concluded Culp.
— Indiana Farm Bureau
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