By Jacob Bunge and Kirk Maltais
Farmers who delayed planting in waterlogged fields this spring face a new threat as they race to harvest their crops: snow.
Heavy snowfall and high winds in the past several days buffeted northern Farm Belt states where many farmers delayed historic planting last spring. The early blizzard bookended a trying year for U.S. farmers. Crop prices generally remain under pressure because of high supplies and slackened demand as a result of the U.S.-China trade war. And many crops now threatened by a freeze are immature because they were planted so late.
Roger Rix, who farms near Groton, S.D., was hustling with his sons last Wednesday to harvest soybeans before the storm hit. He suspected two-thirds of their soybean acres would still be in the field when the storm was forecast to arrive this week.
"We know the snow's going to be a disaster," Mr. Rix said.
Over the weekend, parts of the Northern Plains received between 1 and 2 feet of snow as well as high winds, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Temperatures remained freezing Monday and were expected to warm later this week, said weather-analysis firm DTN.
The cold weather is a big threat to vulnerable crops. Only 22% of corn in North Dakota was mature as of Oct. 7, and 36% in South Dakota. In the 18 biggest corn-producing states, 58% of this year's crop was mature, versus an average of 85% by that date over the previous five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
Farmers in the Dakotas say the snow could delay their harvest by as much as three weeks. That will leave them scrambling to beat the next storm as colder weather advances. Some crops could go unharvested until next spring.
David Iverson, a director with the United Soybean Board and a fourth-generation corn and soybean farmer in Astoria, S.D., said he hadn't started harvesting the 1,000 acres of soybeans that he planted in early June, three weeks later than usual. "The push is beating the winter weather setting in," he said.
A bad storm, combined with tightening U.S. corn and soybean supplies, could lift fortunes for farmers elsewhere who are able to get their crops out of the ground. Sanford C. Bernstein analysts projected that every 1% decline in corn yield driven by harsh weather could lift corn prices by 5 cents a bushel. For farmers with crops to sell, higher prices translate to more spending on seeds, fertilizer and machinery that could benefit suppliers such as Bayer AG, Corteva Inc., Mosaic Co. and Nutrien Ltd.
Net U.S. farm income this year is forecast to reach $88 billion, up 5% from last year, the USDA estimated in August. Most of that rise is because of a big boost in federal support. The Trump administration's payments to offset the impact of the trade war with China will boost government payments to farmers to $19.5 billion this year, USDA said, the highest level since 2005.
For Chris Brossart, a farmer of corn, wheat and soybeans in Rugby, N.D., planting on time wasn't enough to beat the snowstorm. Of the 4,000 acres he and his wife farm, he has 2,000 acres of soybeans left to harvest and 500 acres of corn left to harvest.
A lot of these plants are hanging on, trying to fill out their yield," Mr. Brossart said.
In Onida, S.D., Oahe Grain Corp. General Manager Tim Luken said he worried about the financial fallout on the local economy. Smaller crops mean less income for farmers and less business for local agricultural shippers and suppliers. That trickles out to grocers and other businesses, he said.
"This year it's been a war with Mother Nature, and I've come to the conclusion we're not gonna win," Mr. Luken said.
Write to Jacob Bunge at firstname.lastname@example.org and Kirk Maltais at Kirk.Maltais@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 14, 2019 18:35 ET (22:35 GMT)
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