Virgil Schmitt, a Muscatine County farmer and an agronomist for the Iowa State University Extension, is contemplating the unthinkable to a farmer: It may not be financially viable for him to plant a crop this year.
The Trump administration announced a $16 billion aid package announced Thursday to aid farmers facing low commodity prices due to a tariff war with China, as well as over-production home and weather conditions that have kept some farmers out of the fields this spring. But whatever Schmitt may get may not be enough to justify planting a crop this year, given the cost of inputs that include fertilizer, seeds and the cost of fuel to distribute both.
He, and many other Quad-City area farmers, are contemplating leaving their fields idle and taking a prevented planting payment from their insurance.
“My dad started farming in 1934 and he always got a crop in every year,” Schmitt said. “I’ve always gotten a crop in every year. And the idea that I may not put in a crop this year from an emotional standpoint is hard to contemplate. At the same time, I realize this may be a first. “
There is a lot to consider before Schmitt makes any final decision, including how the U.S. Department of Agriculture's current aid package will pay out.
But it’s not just Schmitt considering the prevented planting option. In the meetings and webinars he has attended or helped to conduct there are hundreds of farmers mulling over the same questions.
There remain a lot of unknowns about how the government payments will be made, what happens if market conditions change, and even if one commodity will be given weight over another, such as with the last aid package that tilted toward soybeans.
“The devil is in the details,” Schmitt said. “Once those details are released everything could change.
“We could end up with a lot of acreage sitting idle,” he said. “Or we could have people ready to go and plant. But it doesn’t look like anyone is going to turn a wheel for at least a week, given the weather conditions.”
In conversations with other farmers, Schmitt said he has heard time and again, “Who would have thought the markets would be screwed up this bad and the weather screwed up this bad all at the same time?”
The aid package came none too soon, Schmitt said. But the USDA needs to get the details out to farmers fast so the farmers can make intelligent decisions.
“Farmers are farmers because they love to grow food to feed the world,” Schmitt said. “They want to get out and plant. No one ever dreamed this scenario would ever occur where the weather is horrible in the midst of a trade war.
“We’ve been telling farmers that their decision should not be made on emotion, but to do what makes the most economic sense,” he said. “If that means prevented-plant, then at least they’ll be around to grow food for another year.
“That a farmer would not plant is something that’s totally foreign,” Schmitt said. “Of course, Mother Nature may end up having the final say.