The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers show weather made this year's planting season the worst on record.
FLORIDA — Numbers released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirm what many U.S. farmers already knew — that the weather has made this year the worst planting season on record.
Heavy rainfall, flooding and other adverse events prevented more than 19.4 million acres of crops from being planted across the country and most significantly in the Midwest, which saw a sharp decline in corn, soybean and wheat.
Overall, it’s an increase of nearly 17.5 million prevented plant acres from this time last year and is the highest number reported since 2007 when the USDA began releasing the report, the agency said. The USDA data released Monday will continue to be updated through January as the season progresses.
Among the hardest-hit states were Ohio, Arkansas, Michigan and Mississippi, according to the USDA data.
In Florida alone, a total of more than 2,384 acres that normally would be planted with crops are lying fallow this year. That number includes 644 acres of oats and 20 acres of corn in fields where farmers were prevented from planting.
“Agricultural producers across the country are facing significant challenges and tough decisions on their farms and ranches,” USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said in a press release. “We know these are challenging times for farmers, and we have worked to improve flexibility of our programs to assist producers prevented from planting.”
It was the first time Keith Truckor, who has farmed for about 40 years, couldn't plant a crop.
Truckor, 57, who farms in Fulton County in northwest Ohio, normally plants 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans.
"It was a tough decision emotionally and financially," he said. "We as farmers take a lot of pride in planting our crop every spring, and nurturing that crop through the growing season and in harvesting that crop in the fall. Emotionally, you want to get out there and do that, because that's the way you've been brought up."
The record in Ohio was shattered this year for the percentage of acres where farmers invoked their prevented-planting insurance, which allows farmers to collect when conditions such as heavy rainfall and flooding prevent them from planting crops. They receive money to cover fixed costs, which is a fraction of the money they would receive from a thriving crop.
Truckor is not alone.
Nationally, most of the acreage where farmers were prevented from planting due to weather conditions was for corn, at 11.2 million acres, followed by soybeans at 4.4 million acres, the USDA reported. Taking into account all acres where crops either failed or farmers did not plant, Louisiana had the highest percentage of affected agricultural land, followed by Massachusetts and Ohio.
"Ohio is maybe the worst hit of all the states in the Corn Belt in terms of the rainfall this spring and summer ... I'm looking at a couple other states like Illinois and Indiana, and really, they're hit hard, too. But I think this report just once again, solidifies that we are seeing Ohio is right next to the worst in terms of hardest areas," Brown said.
In Fulton County, where Truckor resides, farmers were unable to plant crops on 35.7 percent of the county's agricultural land, according to USDA data analyzed by The Dispatch.
In three counties in Mississippi and one in Illinois, insured farmers were prevented from planting on more than half the farm acres.
In the worst-hit county in Florida, Columbia County, insured farmers were prevented from planting on 3 percent of the county's agricultural land.
Ty Higgins, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, described the numbers as staggering and shared concerns for the mental health of farmers.
"We just have to be aware that (farmers are) going through some tough times," he said.
As for Truckor, he looks to next season.
"My hope and prayers are that we don't get a couple more back-to-back bad years," Truckor said. "We tend to see, the law of averages, you know you tend to average yourself out. You've got to take the good with the bad or the business that we're in called farming will beat you up pretty bad. It sure hurts in the heat of the moment.
"Our family and the community — there's a lot of support there," he said. "We'll get through this."