ELK POINT - Robert Walsh is at the heart of South Dakota's corn quandary heading into a new planting season.
Walsh, president of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council and lives in very southeastern corner of the state in Union County, has had his fields filled by the overflowing waters of the Big Sioux River.
He had water in his fields last year, and more water this year. And while the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service prospective planting report showed that South Dakota was expecting a 13 percent climb in corn acres planted over last year, bringing the total to 6 million, Walsh said he wouldn't be surprised to see a change in approach.
"The trump card is the weather and the flooding," he said. "If farmers can't get that corn planted by the middle part, or the second half of May, you're going to see some people switch. Beans cost a lot less and if you can't get a full yield, it makes more sense to switch to beans."
The USDA report, which surveyed farmers in early March, before flooding hit a part of the South Dakota and many Central Plains states. In that survey, soybean planted acreage was expected to be at 5.2 million acres in South Dakota, down 8 percent from last year.
Walsh said he's already expecting farmers in his area to back off plans to plant corn because of a longer maturity time.
"If you just use the actual figures from the report, the economy of best profit would be corn over soybeans," said Walsh, of an ideal, weather-unaffected year. "I'd say there's probably more farmers pushing their acres to corn a bit more than normal."
Experts say the corn market could be in a position for gains, due to increases in using corn for ethanol and the flooding, which has impacted large swaths of the Midwest. Those factors would tighten supplies of corn around the globe, driving prices up.
Nationally, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, it was the wettest winter in 124 years of record, and was worst in the central and eastern United States. South Dakota was one of 18 states to have a top-10 ranking for winter wetness, joined by Nebraska and Oklahoma in the Central Plains states.
"Overall, corn still makes sense across the United States for a lot of people," Walsh said. "But at least in our part, if it stays wet and delays planting, that picture is going to change."
In Walsh's part of the state, the Big Sioux River needs to have its breached levees fixed, after the second-biggest recorded flood in the river's history. He said time will have to be taken to fix those levees - which exist on the South Dakota and Iowa sides of the river - so that they can protect the area once again.
"Even if we get a beautiful April and a nice early May, there is no way to get our levees fixed in time," said Walsh, who has been farming full-time for nearly 15 years. "If we get any kind of small flooding, we're going to lose our crop again. That's the real unfortunate thing, you can't fix levees with mud."