Jun 23, 2019 - Science

Rain makes corn — until it doesn't

Flooding on farms

Water pools in rain-soaked farm fields on May 29 near Gardner, Illinois. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The wettest 12 months in recorded U.S. history have exacted a price — millions of acres of waterlogged fields remain unplanted during the worst farm crisis since the '80s.

Why it matters: Agriculture is used to boom-bust cycles. What's less common is the bust coinciding with historic trade wars.

  • "We spent 40 years developing this trade relationship with China and in one fell swoop, it was all taken away," fourth-generation soybean farmer Bret Davis told Axios' Courtenay Brown in May.
  • 2018's U.S. soybean sales to China were at a 16-year low.

By the numbers: Just 77% of potential soybean acres have been planted in the 18 highest producing states vs. an average 93% over the past 5 years.

  • For corn, it's 92%, compared to an average of 100%. This is the worst number in 40 years, the WashPost reports.
  • Even cotton is at 89% vs. the 5-year average of 94%.
  • Michigan, South Dakota, Missouri and Ohio are feeling the pain worse than others.

The big picture: Farmers are generally insured against crop loss — and many are insured against being unable to plant.

  • But "the suppliers who sell seed and herbicides to farmers don’t have insurance," South Dakota State's Jonathan Kleinja told the Post.
  • Another whammy: Beleaguered industries like dairy are facing already-bad profit margins and are reliant on corn to feed their cows.

The bottom line: More farm aid is almost certainly on the way. The Trump administration — which is responsible for farmer trade war pains — keeps upping its offers to help, including for farmers who weren't able to plant.

Go deeper