Butch Aycock has been farming on his own since 1970 and has seen more than his share of crop disasters in that time, including drought, freezes and hail storms. But those isolated calamities pale in comparison to the disaster that hit his 2009 wheat and corn crops.
“I’ve never had a year with this high percentage of acreage lost,” Aycock said. “About 300 of the 3,000 acres of wheat will make a decent yield. Another 2,000 acres will suffer more than a 60 percent loss and some of that is 100 percent gone. And about 400 acres will be at a 40 percent to 50 percent loss.”
Corn is not faring much better. Aycock, who farms in Collin County, Texas, about an hour northeast of Dallas, says his best fields likely will make 70 to 80 bushels per acre. “A few fields with drier soils and planted early, may be OK. Most of it is a wreck.”
A combination of late freezes and then too much rain hammered much of northeast Texas, leaving a promising wheat crop devastated from the cold snaps and corn suffering from heavy rains that leached out nutrients, depleted oxygen and prevented timely sidedress applications.
“We’ve had 14 inches of rain since Easter Sunday,” Aycock said. “They don’t report that on the evening news, but that’s what we pour out of our rain gauges. We had a lot of sidedress applications we needed that we just couldn’t get done. We had too much rain to get into the fields. It’s a big wreck.”
Aycock said even the few corn acres he could sidedress look pretty bad. “I’ve had stand problems even though some of the fields were easy to plant, with dry, well prepared soils. But we got 5 inches of rain in four days. I lost some stands on poorer drained soils and had to replant.”
He said the freezes that wiped out most of his wheat crop also took out a lot of corn. “I had some fields that were damaged badly. Of 3,000 acres of corn, I had to replant 800.”
He replanted some fields twice and still expects little production. “The best yield prospect is 70 to 80 bushels per acre and it’s probably less than that. We’re getting close to insurance levels kicking in.”
He said production likely will be down two-thirds of normal.
But he’ll have to manage the crop. “We have a stand and enough potential that the insurance adjuster can’t release it. There’s just no way now to know what it might make. If it got hailed out, we’d know.”
He baled some of his freeze-damaged wheat, but couldn’t plant behind the failed crop. “By the time it was released, we had a prediction of big rains so we couldn’t get in to plant (another crop). Now, the wheat is getting mature and is almost ready to combine.”
He expects to harvest some of the crop for grain.
“Conditions are rough as a cob,” Aycock said. “I’ve been farming on my own since 1970 and I’ve never had this much of my ground messed up. I’ve had isolated fields hit with freeze damage, drought and hail, but never this much of a wreck.”
He said corn he replanted in mid-April may offer his best chance at a decent yield. “It has a chance of making a crop if we can get in with fertilizer and get good weather. I wouldn’t recommend planting that late as a rule, but it may work this year.”
He said his father and grandfather also farmed, his grandfather through the Great Depression, and told him stories of other farmers who made a living from the land until they were about 50 years old then a disaster hit and wiped them out.
“That would have happened to me if I hadn’t had crop insurance.” He cut back on corn acreage and increased wheat planting for 2009 because the wheat insurance coverage was much better. “I wish I had it all in wheat,” he said. He figures a wheat disaster this year is better than a bad corn crop. The corn has been much more expensive to grow and insurance coverage is significantly less.
“I can still make some corn,” he said, “but it will not be a full crop.”