DAVENPORT, Iowa — 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 for farmers who are facing low commodity prices due to a tariff war with China, as well as over-production 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 Davenport-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 USDA’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 last week. “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?”
Charles Brown, a farm management specialist for the Iowa State Extension, and who is a farmer himself, has planted nothing at this time. Being in southern Iowa gives him a bit more time to make a decision. Then the weather turned.
“There are a lot of guys in my area that have not turned a wheel in a field in almost a month,” Brown said.
A number of farmers in his area got work done in April and put a lot of corn into the ground and some beans, he said. “Since then, it’s been hit or miss.”