Flooding of fields, saturated soil, drowned out spots, wash outs, poor stands, delayed planting, prevented planting—it’s all taking a big toll on crop production for 2008 in Iowa. How much damage have planting delays and extensive flooding done to the state’s corn and soybean production?
Up to 20% of Iowa’s production has been lost—so far. That estimate, based on conditions as of June 13, comes from Dave Miller, an economist and director of research and commodity services for Iowa Farm Bureau. Miller, who is a farmer and an ag economist, grows corn and soybeans in south central Iowa.
There are many acres of drowned out corn and soybean fields in Iowa—along with poor stands and some acres that didn’t get planted in the first place. In addition to the acreage loss, lower yields are expected because of the acres that are replanted at a later date and other crop problems. Corn yield will be reduced because of nitrogen loss.
Iowa crops suffer from poor stands
Earlier this spring, soil was worked too wet but time was running out and farmers had to get those acres planted, notes Miller. Many corn and soybean stands have now been thinned by erosion and washouts--and there will be an increased amount of crop disease this year.
He estimates that floodwaters in Iowa have claimed nearly 1.3 million corn acres and up to two million acres of soybeans as of mid-June.
As national media and clean-up crews traverse the state, many people speculate that the flood of 2008 is worse than the flood of 1993. “It is certainly comparable to ’93,” says Miller. “But there are some differences. There were more acres that never got planted in 1993 than this year. Although the floods came later in ’93, it was wet throughout the whole planting season that year, and a lot of ground was never fit to plant. It didn’t get planted.”
This year most of the corn and a significant portion of the soybeans were already planted when the floods hit. “Farmers have already put a lot of resources into a crop that is now underwater,” notes Miller.
16% of Iowa acres underwater
People have speculated that the higher crests on some of the rivers in Iowa this year would make it much worse for farmers. “But 6 inches of water on a small corn or soybean plant can kill the plant the same as six feet of water,” he says.
The big question facing farmers now—one June 13--is whether to replant. Miller says if it quits raining and the flood waters recede, it’ll take 7 to 10 drying days before they are able to replant. If that happens, farmers can plant short season corn—a faster maturing corn—as late as June 25 in Iowa. Many farmers will plant a soybean crop as late as July 1. “However, the risk of frost in the fall or other crop problems is magnified by this later planting,” says Miller.
“Iowa has 25 million tillable acres but 16% of it is underwater right now. How much of an impact the potential loss has also depends on the flooding of other states. Meanwhile, wheat growers in the U.S. and globally have responded to higher prices and are set to harvest large crops. Given time for farmers to respond to higher prices, food supplies will expand,” says Miller.
How will crop loss affect food prices?
What will these reduced crop prospects mean for consumers at the grocery store? Miller says while the price of corn has gone up a dollar and a half in the last two weeks in Chicago, it should not directly impact the price of most foods at the grocery store. That’s because wheat production is up in the U.S. and globally in 2008 and that has a larger impact on bread and cereals than corn.
However, since nearly half of Iowa’s corn and all of the distillers grains from ethanol production are fed to livestock, consumers can expect meat prices to fluctuate. “In the short term, pork and beef prices may initially drop as livestock farmers liquidate herds because feed costs are too high for them to hold out and continue feeding livestock. But you should expect the prices to climb at the meat counter in about six months,” says Miller.
Additional statistics from USDA show fuel and marketing costs have the lion’s share of the food dollar—81 cents according to the latest figures. Even if the price of corn were to double, it should not double the cost of a food item, he says.