Northey: Prevented planting could hit more than 10 million acres
The number of acres American farmers are unable to plant this year due to wet weather may exceed 10 million acres, the highest number reported in recent years, Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said.
The number of acres that farmers have reported as unplantable in previous years has ranged from 2 million to 10 million acres, Northey said, adding that he expects the number of acres reported this year to be “many multiples” of the lower figure and “at least the high end of what the previous range was.”
Northey spoke to reporters in a telephone call with officials of the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
A USDA survey of farmers’ planting intentions released recently has been criticized as out of date and inaccurate, and USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service has said that it will re-survey farmers on their planting intentions.
Northey said he did not know when NASS would conduct that survey, but noted that his agencies deal with actual planting data, not intentions.
USDA has already processed claims for more than $151 million in prevented planting and the total claims are likely to reach more than $1 billion, the officials said.
Northey and Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Matthew Lohr both said they would encourage farmers to plant cover crops if cash crops cannot be planted. Northey also pointed out that if farmers want to be eligible for the Market Facilitation Program that is intended to address the loss of international markets due to trade conflicts, the acres must be planted.
Northey repeated Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s statements that farmers will receive a minimal payment for cover crop acres.
Farmers can get cost share payments from NRCS for planting cover crops, Lohr said, emphasizing that cover crops are important for the soil.
Lohr said NRCS is holding special sign-up periods in eight states for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program through which the cost share payments flow, and may announce others.
The eight states announced so far are Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
But Northey also noted that there is a shortage of crop seeds, and said that in some places corn and soybeans are being used as cover crops.
Keith Gray, the chief of staff at the Risk Management Agency, pointed out that USDA has changed the date on which farmers who plant cover crops on prevented plant acres will be permitted to hay, graze or chop those fields to Sept. 1 instead of Nov. 1 and still maintain eligibility for their full 2019 prevented planting indemnity.
Gray said this change is only for 2019 but that RMA will evaluate whether a permanent change in the date is appropriate.
USDA is developing a program to make small payments to producers who are prevented from planting through the $3 billion disaster aid program that Congress passed recently, Northey said. But he emphasized that those payments will be small because that program also has to assist southern producers who experienced hurricane damage in 2018.
RMA and FSA are attempting to make their reporting dates the same, but those producers who do not have crop insurance or are in the non-insured crops program will have to follow the FSA schedule, officials said.
Some farmers are still trying to plant “if the weather gives them a window,” but they need “near perfect weather” to get the crop they have planted to harvest. Northey said.
USDA officials realize “this has been a challenging spring for producers across the country and are trying to provide as much help as possible but “the most important help is sunshine,” Northey commented. ❖