IOWA FALLS, Iowa — Larry Sailer’s grandchildren are taller
than they were a year ago. His corn? Well, that’s a different story.
“I don’t think I’ve ever planted anything in June,” said
Sailer, who raises corn and soybeans near Iowa Falls.
He has been in the business of row crop agriculture since
1972. So far, 2013 is shaping up to be one of the latest-planted years he can
“It’s not quite what the report looks like,” said Sailer,
referring to the June 10 U.S. Department of Agriculture Crops and Weather report that lists
statistical planting progress and crop conditions.
That report noted that, as of June 9, 92 percent of Iowa’s
corn crop was in the ground with 44 percent of that crop rated good, 34 percent
rated fair, 11 percent rated poor and only 3 percent rated very poor and 8
percent rated excellent. The planting progress still trailed the five-year
average of 99 percent.
As for soybeans, a little more than half of Iowa’s soybean
crop, 60 percent, was planted. Normally, 95 percent of the soybean crop is in by
this time, according to the USDA. Only 39 percent of the soybean crop is
emerged, compared with 93 percent last year.
As for Sailer, he felt fortunate to be waiting on a delivery
of soybeans from his seed dealer. That delivery would allow him to finish 10
acres that would have been corn if he had not been rained out. Adding 10 acres
of soybeans left him with a deficit of seed to finish his soybean acres.
“Right at the moment, it’s not raining — it’s hot and
humid,” he said. “I honestly feel very fortunate to have everything planted that
I do. I’ve got maybe not even two acres that I couldn’t get in to plant and two
acres prevented from corn.”
With almost every major river in the nation’s largest
corn-growing state over its banks or in some stage of flooding, the state of
Iowa’s corn crop and the future of that crop is a big question mark.
“There are going to be a lot of unplanted corn acres,”
Sailer said. “We haven’t had the big flooding-type rains, but if you go 25 miles
to the east, to Dumont, they’ve just about been under water. Marshalltown has
had flooding problems. We had a three-inch rain here that closed Highway 65 for
a while in May. That started it, and we’ve been wet ever since.”
Sailer also was serving as chauffeur for his grandchildren
for a week. He said in driving them 25 miles to camp, he saw many fields that
won’t produce a crop this year.
“Even driving around today, there are so many fields that
aren’t even touched. A lot of them would be beans, but a lot of them should have
been corn. I’m just seeing a lot of fields that aren’t going to grow a crop,” he
Photographs of his grandchildren in the cornfield tell the
story, showing children taller than the previous year and corn that was
“Everything that’s even up, even the good-looking corn, is
three weeks’ behind. It should be waist-high, and now it’s ankle-high — and
that’s my good corn. It’s been so cool and so wet that even the good corn is way
behind,” he said.
Sailer said that early planting in 2012 made things more
nerve-wracking for some farmers.
“I planted corn the first week of May last year, so it
wasn’t real early. Some in my area did plant in March last year,” he
With steady rains falling, some farmers made the decision to
start planting as the calendar moved toward June.
“To begin with, we wait for conditions to be perfect and
then we just started mudding it in,” Sailer said.
Craig Hill is west of Sailer. The president of Iowa Farm
Bureau farms in Warren County and agreed that the USDA numbers may not reflect
reality on the ground.
“I don’t have data to back this up, but my guess is we have
2 million acres in Iowa that didn’t get planted and still is not planted,” he
said. “We’ve probably got another three-quarters to a million acres that is
washed out or in need of replant.”
Hill said that the USDA numbers may reflect planted acres,
but aren’t an on-the-ground reflection of the quality or progress of that crop.
“That 92 percent is somewhat misleading. Those are not all
good, quality acres that are planted and growing,” he said. “You could have 3 to
4 percent of many, many fields in Iowa that are just zero because of drowned-out
spots, ponded water and the root system is so impaired that it died.”
Hill said that farmers’ ability to replant washed-out spots
and ponded areas in fields has been eliminated this year by regular and
“In years previous with wet springs, you can get in and
replant those ponded areas, hills where seeps are and farmers typically have got
that done by June 10. This year, there was not the opportunity to replant and
there probably won’t be, given the date,” he said.
“I think that’s probably not really observed by USDA reports
— that notion that we typically get things replanted, and we weren’t able to
Hill said that northeast Iowa seems to have taken the brunt
of the negative planting conditions.
“Northeast Iowa is the worst. We’ve got farmers in Fayette
and Winneshiek counties who have not planted a seed of anything. Some farmers
haven’t planted anything yet. In Calhoun County, Fort Dodge, some farmers will
take prevented planting with crop insurance and not plant corn,” he said.
Hill said farmers remain hopeful and cautiously optimistic
about the outcome of a crop that is off to a rough start.
“I think there are concerns. Everyone at this stage is still
hopeful, still hopeful that Mother Nature will provide. The marketplace still
believes that rain makes grain, but I think there needs to be some caution, at
least if you are looking at Iowa’s crop,” he said.
Hill said the corn that survived the cool, wet spring has
more challenges ahead.
“The corn that is growing is very, very short of growing
degree units. Nutrient deficiency is common. It’s just not a very good stage for
mid-June. We just haven’t had a lot of good 80- to 85-degree, sunshine days. By
this time, we should have had many of those days, and we’ve probably had three
or four,” he said.
As surviving corn and soybeans start to grow, all eyes will
remain on the calendar — and the weather forecast — as pollination provides the
next big hurdle for the 2013 crop.
“If it would quit raining, the crop is in trouble. If it
continues to rain, the crop could be in trouble. It’s going to take some fairly
ideal weather from here forward,” Hill said.
He added that while drought years may get more publicity,
wet years can impact a crop as much or more.
“Iowa only lost about 20 percent of its crop last year
because of the drought, but we could lose more of our corn crop due to flooding
and additional flooding than we lost last year. We survived pretty well last
year, and we were amazed. Wet years, like this one, in history have had as big
an impact as the drought years,” he said.
Corn and soybean farmers aren’t the only ones keeping an eye
on the crop.
Sailer, who used to raise pigs on a farrow to half-finish
setting, manages a 4,000-head finishing barn near his home farm. He said that
the current condition of the U.S. corn and soybean crop could mean continued
high feed prices for livestock farmers.
“I can’t see corn and beans being cheap. Maybe it’s not
going to skyrocket like it has in past years, but it’s not going to be cheap,”