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Planting time running out

Estimates for the financial damage incurred by Midwest crops are soaring and more rain in the forecast may leave only one direction for the trend in damage costs.

An overall wet weather pattern is seen settling in over already sopping-wet areas, meaning time might be running out on getting the '08 crop in the ground. That means the estimated $8 billion (according to the American Farm Bureau Federation this week) in damage that's been inflicted by heavy rains and flooding to corn and soybean fields in the nation's midsection may be far from the end.

"The spigot is open and heavy rain will fall from the Dakotas to Ohio in the next three days. Flash flood warnings are all ready active again in northern Missouri and more rain is on the way for that state," says QT Weather ag meteorologist Allen Motew. "The next few days are going to be wet ones from the Dakotas to northern Ohio. Sadly, the result of this rainfall will be the 'nail in the coffin' for many farmers who are deciding whether to replant on millions of acres and for those on another million acres who need to plant for the first time.

"This near-term cool and very wet spell will then turn warmer, dryer and a lot more tranquil. I will admit though I say that with a little bit of hopeful thinking."

"Hopeful thinking" for his area's crops became a lot tougher as the sun rose Wednesday morning on Don Larkin's farm near Chillicothe, Missouri. He says it's difficult to get a clear picture of how much rain fell Tuesday night, though the fact that most area rain gauges were filled up by this morning indicates it was no light shower.

"I'm hearing anywhere from six to 12 inches in about a three-county area. It was localized, but there's a lot of water coming down through here now," Larkin said Wednesday morning. "It rained hard for four hours straight. We had flash floods around here like nobody's ever seen, and I'm talking about guys in their 80s."

Tuesday's rain event was the culmination of what may end up being the year of the worst spring crop weather in history in northern Missouri. Larkin says after it dried out enough to get into the field in May, he was able to get most of his corn planted and just under half his soybeans in the ground before the rains began. Now, a month into the wet spell, he's still waiting to get his remaining beans in the ground...if he's able to at all.

"Some was waist-high, some about a foot tall. It was looking really good," Larkin says of his young corn crop. "We were really pushing it to get done what we got done.

"In '93, we got wiped out. But, I've seen worse water this time around."

Down the road, the quick death for some crops may, in retrospect, have been flooding or wet spring conditions. That's because some forecasters see below-normal temperatures sticking around for a while. For farmers who have already seen their growing season shortened by bad weather so far, fewer growing-degree days is not good news.

"If [the current two- to four-degree average temperature differential] continues, it will push back the corn's maturation date," says AccuWeather.com senior ag meteorologist Dale Mohler. "We need to get this crop ahead of schedule. If not, it will run into the first frost."

In places like Larkin's area of Missouri, the corn crop may face indomitable odds of survival. But, there's some hope yet that the soybean crop there could make it, even if planted in July.

"Missouri still had a third of their soybean crop left to plant as of this past Sunday, at a time when the five-year average was 94%. Its more southern location in the Corn Belt means that farmers there may take a chance at planting soybeans into the opening days of July, but I would have to consider it likely that all acreage intended to be planted to soybeans will not get done after the rains of last night," Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., meteorologist Charlie Notis said Wednesday morning. "While Missouri is not among the biggest corn producing states in the Nation, it does rank around number five in most years as far as leading soybean producing states are concerned.

"One also has to wonder if this will not be the final 'dagger' on planting efforts in a state that just has never been able to dry out throughout this planting season," Notis added of Tuesday night's rain in northern Missouri.

Larkin says he's still hanging on to hope that he can get the rest of his soybeans in the ground before it's too late, adding that after early spring flooding last year, he ended up with decent soybeans on those acres that saw the high water.

Then, there's always the crop insurance prevented planting option. While he knows he'll have this option, Larkin says he's hold out as long as he can to try to get his beans in the ground, especially with market prices where they are right now.

"On all the beans we didn't get planted for sure, the most logical thing is the prevented planting option. There's no guarantees if you plant anything later. On the corn, we'll have to wait and see what's left," says Larkin, adding 98% of the land he farms is bottom ground. "We really had to push it to get what we got done before it started raining. But, with $15 beans, if you can get a halfway decent crop, you'll wind up better than if you took prevented planting."

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Estimates for the financial damage incurred by Midwest crops are soaring and more rain in the forecast may leave only one direction for the trend in damage costs.

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