Wet Spring Delays Planting In Corn Belt
KATHLEEN MASTERSON: I'm Kathleen Masterson, standing in a cornfield in Roland, Iowa, where the ditches running through farmer Kevin Baldus's fields are swollen with extra water. Across the Corn Belt, a wet and muddy spring has delayed planting in many states. But here in central Iowa, sunshine and breezes last week finally allowed farmers like Baldus to get out in their tractors.
Mr. KEVIN BALDUS (Farmer): We've got about 1,200 acres of corn, and we've planted about 300 so far.
MASTERSON: Baldus has been spending 14-hour days in his tractor trying to catch up, planting row after row of corn. But fields in other parts of the Corn Belt still haven't dried out yet. Record rainfall and flooding in Ohio, Indiana and southern Illinois has left farmers there far behind in planting their corn. They normally have at least half the crop planted by this time of year, but as of Sunday, Ohio had a meager 2 percent planted, and Indiana farmers had only 4 percent of their crop in the ground.
Mr. BOB NIELSEN (Agronomist, Purdue University): I'm anxious like all the farmers are anxious, simply because we know we should be out in fields at this time of year, and we're not.
MASTERSON: That's Purdue University agronomist Bob Nielsen. Despite his concern, he says it's too soon to tell if the delays will affect crop yields.
Mr. NIELSEN: In fact, 2009 was similarly delayed, and we ended up with statewide averages that were 8 percent above normal.
MASTERSON: Iowa State University ag economist Bruce Babcock says there's a lot riding on this year's crop yields. Those yields have a big effect on grain prices, and ultimately on what we pay at the grocery store.
Mr. BRUCE BABCOCK (Ag Economist, Iowa State University): To tell you truth, if we have a short crop, we're going to face - not a catastrophe, because we allow the markets to work, but we're going to face very high commodity prices this fall if we have a short crop.
MASTERSON: Babcock says commodity prices have remained high since last summer, and that's already boosted the cost of staples like milk, eggs, beef and pork. That's because the main cost of raising livestock is feed corn. And with world grain reserves this year forecast to fall to their lowest level in years, Midwest crop troubles could continue to jolt the vulnerable global market.
So consumers should join farmers in hoping for rain in Kansas and sunshine in the Corn Belt, because a bounty of wheat and corn could help stabilize the rising cost of food.
For NPR News, I'm Kathleen Masterson.
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