‘A lick and a promise’

Sunday, June 9, 2019
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Farm Connection

Most American farmers spent the last week of May and the first week of June either driving through mud or stuck in it. Their two farming partners, Mother Nature and Uncle Sam, were little help; one brought threats of more rain and mud, the other threats of more tariffs and bailouts.

Farmers in my neighborhood, however, spent part of the time pulling their wide 16- and 24-row planters through narrow 24- and 48-hour planting windows to, literally, jam their 2019 corn crops into far-from-ideal ground with what my father often described as a “a lick and a promise.”

Should the window stay open long enough, they’ll slam in their soybeans, too, until the stomachchurning, never-to-be-forgotten 2019 planting season ends in either a fast flourish or a waterlogged flop.

Then the really hard part starts.

Will all that mud, too-fast planting speeds, and washed out fields hamper germination, cut plant populations, and hammer yield? It’s a good question with only one bad answer: it doesn’t matter because for most farmers it’s already too late to replant any corn, soybeans, or hope.

The powerless waiting—for tasseling and pollination of corn, blooming and pod-setting for beans—comes next. This year’s delayed planting means both crops will experience these critical make-or-break weeks in the frying-pan heat of late July and August.

Again, yields hang in the balance.

And harvest? Like planting, it will be beyond late. In corn, late means wet and wet means grain drying and grain drying means more costs, more delays, more problems. It’s little better for beans; unlike corn, mature soybeans re-absorb moisture to hamper harvest and clip yield.

For all of this to go well—a couple of dry weeks in June to finish planting, no steamy July, no frying-pan August, no frost in September, and no mud in October—will be the farm equivalent of a moon shot.

Compounding those already awful odds, however, is your other partner, Uncle Sam; while you’ve been planting crops, he’s been sowing confusion.

It began May 23, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a second China tariff bailout package. This one, explained Secretary of Agricul-