It's been a tough year for farmers in the Midwest states of Minnesota, South Dakota, northern Iowa, northeastern North Dakota and western Wisconsin. Many of these areas endured late planting due to April snows, record setting rainfall in early summer, hailstorms and then rain and snow delayed harvest.
Most of the crop was looking good heading in to September, but then came more rain and more rain on top of that. Some of the areas even received snow recently. It's as if Mother Nature was picking on them constantly, daring them to harvest a good crop.
It appears she may have won the last round. Many farmers scouted their fields after the recent bout of rain and some were disheartened at what they saw. Social media was full of pictures of open soybean pods: some sprouting and some dropping beans. There were a few pictures of poor-looking corn with bent over stalks and cobs that had sprout and mold, but most of the focus was on the poor condition of the soybeans.
Because of all the rain that delayed harvest, soybeans started to shatter. The risk of shattering is especially high when soybean fields go through repeated cycles of wet nights with heavy dew followed by dry days. Shattering may also occur if there is a long interval between final maturity and harvest delays, which is they just went through. This will create yield loss and any beans left in the pod are likely damaged and/or are starting to sprout.
I reached out to farmers who were dealing with rain-damaged fields and those who saw their crops buried by snow. Here are their comments.
CONSTANT RAIN CAUSES DAMAGE TO SOYBEANS
"I am seeing between 1% and 5% split pods on my fields," said Dave Newby, of Bondurant, Iowa. "The good news is there are few beans actually on the ground. The bean quality is quite poor in the split pods with some of the beans having sprouted. There are some moldy and discolored beans in pods that are not split and that is worrisome. The pods are generally tough and hard to open right now. My concern is that when they dry out, there will be more pods that split.
"I have seen fields that you could see the split pods from the road. It's pretty bad if you can see it from the road. I have seen fields where there is almost no split pods. Some varieties have pods that don't split as easy. The earlier maturing varieties that were planted earlier seem to have more splitting problems," said Newby.
Newby said that the cool weather should keep the beans from further sprouting, but they need heat to dry out the beans so they can be combined. "It's kind of a Catch-22 situation and we need some sunny weather, but that has been hard to come by. Hard to tell how much loss there will be as there is maybe 5% quality damage now but there could be more by the time they are combined."
According to Newby, there will be more than usual harvest loss as the beans will be flying all over when the cutter bar and reel hits them. "We planted our beans a little later than some did so we may have a little less problem as they are a bit greener. The areas that received the most rain recently probably have the worst problem. We were a little lucky that we only got 3 inches in October and not 5 inches to 7 inches like some did."
Dennis Bogaards, of Pella, Iowa said, "This sounds like it is a really big problem across a lot of Iowa. I am guessing we will see losses from 10% to 50%. It depends on the field and variety and it appears that earlier beans are the worst. I have some 2.4 beans (early maturity soybean variety) that have at least two pods, sometimes three to four per plant, that are sprouted. Also seeing what looks like mold on some beans when I break them open and many black beans that have rotted.
"If we continue to get rain, it will only get worse. One positive might be the colder temps will hopefully limit germination in the pods," said Bogaards. "Also, one other thought is we might see the beans be ready to harvest before ground conditions are fit and the longer they sit in the field the worse it is going to get." Bogaards said he was wondering about seed production beans, and while he doesn't have any, he thinks seed quality for next year may not be very good.
"The beans are a mess!" said Mike Carlson, of Red Oak, Iowa "I've had over 22 inches of rain in the last 60 days. Just way too much! Now the beans are swelling and the pods are breaking open and the beans are falling out. Some of them are sprouting in the pod so I'm sure we will be dealing with quality issues too." He said because of that, elevators will be taking discounts for damage which will further add to loss in the final price.
"When it dries up, the pods will be so brittle that shattering will be terrible! We have definitely lost the top end off of the yield," added Carlson. "We've gone from a decent crop to possibly an insurance claim. It's hard to say until I get back out there but I would guess a 5- to 10-bushel-per-acre (bpa) loss at least; I just hope I'm wrong. I can't do anything about it so it's frustrating. Trying not to dwell on it because it could get to you. It's pretty widespread too. Everyone with beans in the field is seeing it. It is just sickening!"
Carlson said there is also wet ground that might not even get harvested, but he's hoping the wet areas that he can't get to don't amount to much. "If we have to, we might come back after it freezes. The weather sounds better for next week. Gotta take the bad with the good. It's tough sometimes, but this is what I chose to do and wouldn't be happy doing anything else."
SNOW BURIES CROPS
"We have had 6 inches of snow and 8 inches of snow on our soys," said Dave Blasey, from eastern North Dakota. "There will be yield loss but I don't know how much yet. Not the most optimistic fall so far."
Peter Ness, of Sharon, North Dakota told me over the weekend that he figured half the snow melted overnight with the wind and humidity. "Most crops took it very well. For how wet it is, we'll probably have to wait till the ground freezes to take the soybeans off. The guys with edible beans are really worried. Some of the corn cannibalized and is breaking down." (Stalk cannibalization happens when nutrients are "translocated" to developing kernels at the expense of stalk health.)
Ness also noted that black birds have moved into the sunflower fields and are doing extensive damage. "The past month has been hell for farmers," he added.
Andy Weisser, of Roscoe, South Dakota told me on Friday that he finally managed to go out and access what the damage was from the snow. "I would say the corn handled it much worse than the soybeans! The corn stalk strength was not the best this year due to a dry August, so the wet snow and wind managed to tip over more corn. Our yields in corn may be about 10 bpa.
"Our soybeans were not too much to brag about, maybe 30 bpa, due to wind damage this spring and two hail storms in the beginning of July. The snow was just more salt in the wound."
Weisser said they have only harvested 3% of their total acres this year, and he believes that progress is the same for other farmers in his area. "We did try to harvest before all the moisture, but it was too wet to store in a grain bin. I will say it could have been worse and we probably are lucky that we had a dry summer because this should soak in once it warms up. I hope to be able to try and harvest by Monday."
Chad E. Colby, general manager of Central Illinois Ag, did a survey on Twitter late in the week asking if recent weather will decrease yields. Of the 239 who responded, 59% said yes, 20% said no and 21% were uncertain. "Safe to say in many places across the Midwest yield will be affected due to weather of last month on mature crops," added Colby.
"We thought this was going to be a fast harvest, but this weather has just caught us unprepared! Shows Mother Nature is still the boss," said Weisser, most likely echoing farmers in the same situation.
On Oct. 12, the University of Minnesota Extension published a blog on "Storing, Drying, and Handling Wet Soybeans" that can be found at http://blog-crop-news.extension.umn.edu/…
Mary Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn
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