ALPENA — Another wet spring could be in store for Michigan’s farmers.
The cold and wet spring last year shortened the window farmers had to plant their crops and the lack of rain toward the end of the season didn’t allow crops to fully mature. Some farmers were not able to plant their crops at all.
Gary McDowell, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, has reason to believe farmers are in store for another wet year.
Officials with the National Weather Service recently told state officials, including McDowell, that Michigan is in the middle of the wettest one-year, three-year, and five-year period since records began.
Record-high water levels in the Great Lakes the past year is leading to high rivers and streams, which adds to soil already wet because of heavy rainfall.
McDowell said the state is currently on track for “another record year” of rainfall and, if that happens, this farming season is “going to be a repeat of last year.
“Last year, there were so many acres across Michigan that never got planted,” McDowell said. “There were 920,000 acres of farmland that was put into this program called Prevent Plant, where the farmer could not just get it planted because of the rain.”
McDowell said the weather, along with several years of low commodity prices, has meant more farmer bankruptcies.
He said bankruptcies in the farm community were up about 20% from a year ago.
“You can have usually one, two bad years in a row, but now it’s getting to the point where it’s really having a major impact on the farming community,” he said. “It’s not just here in Michigan. It’s the whole Midwestern part of the country has been under this excessive rainfall.”
Myron Martin, who owns Chippewa Farm Supply in Spruce but also farms 160 acres of corn, soybeans and blackbeans, said low commodity prices and low yield has been a struggle for farmers over the past three years.
Martin said most of the farmland in the area got planted. But, because of the late plantings and because there wasn’t enough rain in August, the crops didn’t fully mature and the “quality was just terrible,” he said.
He said the test weight of corn is the weight of a bushel — usually 56 pounds — but that the test weight for corn last year came in between 46 and 52 pounds. The lower yield translates into less money for farmers.
He said business has started off a little slow this year, but more orders have been picking up within the last month.
“I can feel that there’s not a lot of extra money laying around,” he said.
Christian Tollini, field crops educator at Presque Isle County’s Michigan State University Extension Office, has seen some discrepancies in the different forecast models as to how the spring weather is going to play out.
“What’s really going to be critical as far as moving forward is what the weather is going to be this spring,” he said. “If we’re unfortunate to have a spring like we had last year, where it’s very slow to warm up and we get alot of rain along with it, on top of already saturated soils, it’s going to make planting even more difficult to get done.
“However,” he said, “if we do get warmer temperatures and we get some breaks where it’s not raining every day, we’ll actually have opportunities to get planted when we need to. It’s going to be a waiting game to see what the weather pattern does end up shaping up to be.”
Tollini said the MSU Extension does on-farm research and said researchers are getting everything prepared so when there is an opportunity to plant the crops, they can take advantage of it.
Martin remains optimistic about the coming spring. If there’s heat and water, it generally makes for a good year, he said.
If spring comes early and things have a chance to dry up a bit, it might not be such a bad year.
“I think there’s a possibility of having a decent year this year, and maybe getting guys back up to where they’re feeling like they’re making money, even though the prices are low,” he said.
Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.