Decisions on the farm sometimes are easy, and most times are difficult. 

However, the farming decision about 2019 soybean acreage is no where close to certain. And many farmers may be making one of the most difficult choices in their career. 

The problem for many began last fall, and while Central Illinois had a reasonably dry, quick harvest, that was not the case for farmers in the rest of the Corn Belt. Some 2018 crops still have not been harvested because of inclement weather. And when there is still a crop in the field, that means there are problems preparing for the 2019 growing season.

Fall fieldwork was never completed, fall fertilizer was never applied, and those time-consuming tasks rolled over to 2019. On fields that might have had fall nitrogen applied, there would have been a cut and dried decision that field would automatically be corn in 2019, or the expense of the nitrogen would be wasted on bean ground.

And sometime beginning in late last summer, seed salesmen began wanting orders for 2019 so a sufficient amount of desired corn hybrids and soybean varieties could be grown in winter production fields. But many farmers may have hedged some on orders, uncertain about their 2019 acreage mix and have not boxed themselves into a corner.

Along with seed that had biotech traits for herbicide tolerance, orders had to be placed for crop protectants. And with all of the controversy and liability surrounding dicamba herbicide, many farmers were faced with a difficult decision just on weed control.

But the big issue is whether there will be much of a market for soybeans by the time they are harvested in the fall. With one out of every four rows of soybeans exported, and two-thirds of those headed to China in the past several years, there was little decision on what to plant. There was an automatic market for soybeans, and China was taking more volume each year. But no longer.

As farmers prepare planters for some early soybean planting this year, the prospects for a deterioration of the trade relationship between the United States and China looms even larger. The U.S. negotiators, who will meet with their Chinese counterparts for the rest of the week, have already indicated there is little chance for an agreement before the White House has promised to impose greater tariffs on China beginning the first of March

Since China’s tariffs on soybeans last May left U.S. farmers with a billion bushel carryover, few farmers will see any profitability in planting soybeans in 2019.

The only saving grace now is the crop insurance revenue policy that is still returning profitability, if that price holds through the balance of February when the harvest price guarantee is established.  That is about the only hope farmers have to break even on 2019 soybean production.

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Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. In addition to his weekly column, you can view his “From The Farm” and “Harvest Heritage” reports on WCIA 3 News.




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