Driving through rural Illinois and Iowa over the Memorial Day weekend, I was shocked to see vast stretches of unplanted corn fields. Very few had a faint fuzz of sprouting seedlings. I was puzzled: I had been assured of what a spectacular sight they would be, and had at least hopes of seeing growing crops, even if they wouldn't be anywhere as large as they would be at harvest time.
Apparently, the early spring sogginess and other conditions have led to delays in the crop plantings:
“The planting has gotten off to a poor start,” said Bill Nelson, a Wachovia grains analyst. “The anxiety level is increasing.”
Randy Kron, whose family has been farming in the southwestern corner of Indiana for 135 years, should have corn more than a foot tall by now. But all spring it has seemed as if there were a faucet in the sky. The rain is regular, remorseless.
Some of Mr. Kron’s fields are too soggy to plant. Some of the corn he managed to get in has drowned, forcing him to replant. The seeds that survived are barely two inches high.
At a moment when the country’s corn should be flourishing, one plant in 10 has not even emerged from the ground, the Agriculture Department said Monday. Because corn planted late is more sensitive to heat damage in high summer, every day’s delay practically guarantees a lower yield at harvest.
Elsewhere, worries grow on this year's harvest, and markets for futures react accordingly.
Corn futures at the Chicago Board of Trade surged as much as 4 percent on Tuesday, with an all-time high of $6.60-3/4 a bushel set by the July 2009 contract.
So what's the big deal, if it is primarily the corn production which could be in trouble this year? The answer lies in the fact that corn is the primary feedstock for several processed food industries and CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). This doesn't even take into account impact on the production of corn ethanol, still a minor player in the fuel industry.
The weather in the mid-West hasn't improved this last week.
The rain will worsen the ongoing flooding situation in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana.
I guess those farmers are going to have to wait yet some more before planting their soggy fields.
Consumers in the meantime had better get ready for some serious belt-tightening in the autumn.