Many farmers, including Meryl Wayne Swank of Trenton, Mo., recently wrapped up harvest season. Swank, who plants 1,200 acres of soybeans, finally finished his last field on Nov. 6, and he said his yields have surprised him.
“We had a little better than average year this year,” Swank said.
“A little better than average” was not what this crop farmer was expecting throughout the growing season, as he, along with several other Missouri farmers, stumbled across a wet spring, tremendous amounts of rainfall and drought spells.
“Earlier in the year, we had really wet conditions throughout the state so that affected planting time,” said Bill Wiebold, a University of Missouri Extension crop specialist.
Wet Spring Delays Planting Time
The spring of 2013 differed substantially from the spring of 2012, which brought Missouri numerous sunny days along with above normal temperatures and led Missouri into a historic drought by the end of the summer. May 2012 was ranked as the seventh driest May for Missouri, according to the National Weather Service Weather Forecast website, whereas the spring of 2013 was “really wet” according to Swank.
“The growing season really had an affect because of the spring,” Swank said.
With the wet conditions spread throughout Missouri, many crop farmers had a late start to planting, resulting in immature crops.
Swank strategically planted his crops throughout spring by planting a couple hundred acres then letting it rain, then planting another hundred acres. He finally finished planting on June 13.
Extreme Weather Affect Crops
With the already wet spring that delayed corn and soybean planting came an abnormally cool summer that concerned many farmers.
The summer of 2013 was announced as the coolest summer in Missouri since 2009 with temperatures in July roughly 2 degrees below normal and August temperatures at 3 degrees lower than normal.
However, heading into fall, Missouri experienced both historic floods and severe droughts that caused many farmers to despair. In early August, heavy rainfalls in southern Missouri created potential for crop damage or disease.
Swank, who farms in northern Missouri, did not experience the tremendous rainfall. However, Kendal Haynes of Wheaton, Mo., located in the southwest corner of Missouri, received a little too much rain.
“I received a lot of rain here,” said Kendal Haynes, who farms 1,000 acres of corn. “My crops weren’t damaged though. There was just a lot of rain.”
For an individual farmer close to streams near Pulaski, Laclede, Camden or Taney counties, it was a bad situation as they received up to 20 inches of rain. However, there wasn’t a lot of corn or soybeans grown in much of the areas where the rain was, Wiebold said.
“The flash flood was more localized in southern Missouri,” Wiebold said. “So it wasn’t a large percentage of the crops in Missouri that got hurt.”
The weather in Missouri took a turn for the worse during the third week of August.
“The weather was a mess for everyone,” Wiebold said.
The last ten days of August came with high temperatures that climbed well into the 90s, including some triple-digit heat.
“Three weeks of drought in August, right when the seeds are being formed and fitting,” Wiebold said. “That’s a very vulnerable time for these crop planters.”
Low Yields Expected By Many
The Associated Press published an article in mid-September stating that, “Missouri’s recent dry spell has prompted government forecasters to lower their expectations for yields…”
Lowered yields were exactly what farmers across Missouri were expecting.
“We could tell they (crops) were hurt,” Swank said.
During the filling stage of development, the already immature corn and soybeans went under increasing levels of stress, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. They forecasted in September that farmers would harvest roughly 125 bushels of corn per acre, down 5 bushels from the forecast in early August. Soybean yields were expected at 35 bushels per acre, down 4 bushels from the predictions in August.
Haynes saw a surprising yield from his corn. He was averaging 150 bushels per acre, up 25 bushels from what the National Agricultural Statistics Service predicted.
According to the USDA Final 2012 Production Report, Missouri produced an estimated 248 million bushels of corn in 2012, the least since the 247 million bushels in 1999. The yield was at its lowest since 1983 with 75 bushels per acre in 2012. Soybeans were estimated at 155.2 million bushels produced. The yield was at 29.5 bushels per acre.
Yields have increased from last year, but it’s still under the average bushels per acre. This caused a problem for some Missouri farmers.
Wiebold said the drought of 2012 was widespread and affected the whole Midwest, so even though yield was reduced, prices of bushels went up.
“This year, with the drought localized in Missouri,” Wiebold said, “there’s a lot of corn production in the country overall, so prices went down.”
What this means is that a Missouri farmer is not only getting smaller yields, but the price received is less than last year.
“He’s getting hurt in both situations,” Wiebold said.
According to Patrick Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri and a professor in the MU department of agricultural and applied economics, corn and soybean prices are very low with less than $5 a bushel compared to $7 dollars a bushel last year.
“This is just less income for crop producers,” Westhoff said.
The oversupply of crop production will reduce prices for grain and eventually benefit consumers’ grocery bills. While good news is headed for consumers, crop producers are just surprised at the outcome of yields.
“Once it’s all said and done,” Swank said, “it’s better than what we thought it would be when we started.”