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Farmers Mull Leaving Fields Empty

June 5 is the deadline for farmers like Brad Burbrink to receive their full crop insurance payments if they decide not to plant their fields.  (Brock Turner, WTIU/WFIU News)

Data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows less than a quarter of Indiana’s corn crop is in the field — that's compared to more than 90 percent at this time last year. That’s leaving farmers with crop insurance wondering if it’s worth even planting a crop at all.

Brad Burbrink is a lifelong farmer. He grew up on one outside of Seymour and now plants 6,000 acres of corn and soybeans across Vigo and Clay counties.  He says he’s never been forced to delay planting due to rain this long.

“This has been a worry,” he says. “We’re always worried about it. As early as the 15th of April we’re ready to go to the field and get started and get things going because ideally you want to be planted by the 10th of May.  And those dates came and went and came and went.”

Burbrink says he has about 4,000 acres of land left to plant, but a couple dry days doesn’t help much.

“The bad thing is we’re going to need two or three days of good weather before we can start planting. So we really need a ten-day window of drier weather. 

Burbrink says he’s been plowing and turning over his fields in hopes they’ll dry out faster. He’s optimistic some of his fields will be dry Saturday if it doesn’t rain between now and then.

However, the weather forecast does not look good.  Rain is predicted in his area for four of the next seven days.

Even if the weather does hold, there’s little time. Farmers that carry crop insurance have until June 5th to plant a crop and receive full coverage.  If they plant after that date, their coverage amount decreases.

Farmers could switch to soybeans—which can be planted later, but they’re riskier. Prices have been volatile due to retaliatory tariffs from the Chinese. The market for soybeans is soft and prices reflect that.

Adding additional uncertainty is President Trump’s announcement on Twitter of plans to implement tariffs on Mexico beginning June 10.  According to the Office of the United States Trade Representatives, Indiana exports $2.2 billion of corn and soybeans to the country.

“Realistically, no, the corn is not all going to be planted by June 5,“ Burbrink says. "We’re probably going to leave some fields—take preventative plant on some acreage and we will switch some fields from corn to beans. And we’ll plant some acres after June 5."

He says he’s hoping for a miracle. 

“We’re still optimistic that magic is going to happen,” he says.

Burbrink can rest knowing he’s done what he can do, but what he can’t control could be costly. The weather could cause farmers to lose up to $100 per acre.

While corn and soybean prices have increased lately thanks to smaller projected yields, that doesn’t do farmers any good if they can’t get their crops in the ground.

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