Heat-battered corn, soybeans await rain

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Generous showers would be a Vernon County Godsend because the fate of its two major cash crops, corn and soybeans, is teetering in the balance.

Agricultural officials said Friday that June winter wheat receipts were encouraging with harvesters cutting an average of 60 bushels off each of the 24,000 acres planted last fall. The $7 per bushel price was also healthy.

But with summer rains excruciatingly hard to come by, the county's 90,000 acres of soybeans and 42,000 of corn are in big trouble, especially the corn, much of which has already been rendered good for nothing but livestock feed.

U.S. Farm Service Agency Director Jawan Thompson said Vernon's north half has suffered most as 2.44 inches of rain fell in June, when 5.63 is usually recorded, and July's 2.1 inches were well short of the 3.96 norm with some farms getting only a half-inch.

Noting the county has 1,300 farmers, Thompson said, "Some are bailing their corn, plowing it up and leaving strips for the insurance people.

"A good yield is 130 bushels an acre and they might get a half-yield in some areas at $7 a bushel. The drought hit while the corn was pollinating and filling."

Thompson explained that corn is usually harvested in August and soybeans in September and October.

"Some soybean farmers have lost their late-planted beans, but the rest are holding pretty good," he said. "They've still got fair color. It'll be big if we get a good rain because if we don't, there will be major losses."

While soybean prices are strong at $13 a bushel, seed and fertilizer may push production costs to $400 an acre, Thompson said. He added that good yield of soybeans is 38 bushels an acre, but the 2011 crop will produce no more than 15 or 20.

University of Missouri Extension Agronomist Pat Miller said a cornfield can look verdant but have little corn in the shucks. "The corn is pretty much not going to make anything," she reported.

"A lot of farmers are chopping it to silage or feeding it directly to livestock after they chop it. They're also bailing it for hay or grazing it in round bales. The southwest part of the county has had some rain, but the rest in general hasn't.

"The last month or two were so dry that the soybeans are questionable. Even if we do get rain, they're going to be very short plants."

Miller said bad weather also clobbered the peach, apple and pecan orchards. "They didn't make anything because they had advanced too much when it became extremely cold and killed the buds," she said.