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Soggy fields leave Midwestern farmers with few good answers

In this May 29, photo, a field is flooded by waters from the Missouri River, in Bellevue.

There will be no trade aid for farmers who are unable to plant a crop this season because of wet weather that caused intensive flooding and property damage, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the USDA isn't legally authorized to pay producers for unplanted acres and is exploring "legal flexibilities." Producers are encouraged to work with their crop insurance agent to file a claim.

The USDA announced a second package of aid last month to help farmers who've been hurt by the trade war with China. The $16 billion package is supposed to cushion farmers, who already are receiving low prices for their crops, from the full impact of China's retaliatory tariffs.

Spring began with a series of natural disasters. Some farmers, especially those along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and their tributaries in the Midwest and South, still have land underwater. Even as the waters recede, many are finding that their soil isn't healthy enough for planting.

Another complication is that the USDA has not yet announced payment rates for the largest chunk of the aid package, the $14.5 billion Market Facilitation Program, so farmers don't know how much the federal government will pay them for planting one crop as opposed to another.

"I urge farmers to plant for the market and plant what works best on their farm, regardless of what type of assistance programs USDA is able to provide," Perdue said in a statement.

The USDA is considering a minimal per acre payment to farmers who filed a claim for a "prevented planting," insurance coverage that protects producers who are unable to plant a crop by a certain date or are affected by adverse weather.

"If you choose to plant a cover crop with the potential to be harvested, because of this year's adverse weather conditions, you may qualify for a minimal amount of 2019 MFP assistance," the USDA said in its release. "You must still comply with your crop insurance requirements to remain eligible for any indemnities received."

In addition to the $16 billion aid package, President Donald Trump last week signed a $19.1 disaster relief bill. Under that legislation, the USDA can compensate losses caused by prevented planting in 2019 up to 90 percent, however it is "highly unlikely" farmers will receive that level of coverage in addition to crop insurance, according to the USDA.

As of Monday, 94% of corn was planted in Nebraska, compared with the average of 99% for this time of year, and farmers had planted 79% of thire soybean crop, behind the 94% average.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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