As the soybean harvest gets under way in Douglas County, area farmers are faced with half-a-crop but a barn-full of tough decisions.
Local agriculture experts said dry weather conditions likely would cut soybean yields by about half in 2012, but a late-season rain — of all things — was creating headaches for farmers trying to figure out when to harvest the meager crop.
“The year 2012 will go down as one of the most difficult years for farmers with all the tough decisions they have had to make,” said Bill Wood, director of Kansas State’s Douglas County Extension Service. “There have been no easy answers this year.”
Yields for soybeans likely will be less than 10 bushels per acre for most upland, nonirrigated cropland in Douglas County, while river bottom ground may make closer to 30 bushels per acre, said Matthew Vajnar, grain merchandiser for Ottawa Co-op.
But even those farmers with higher yields may face problems. Wood said late-summer rains caused many soybean fields to add new beans that are now green. The mix of harvest-ready beans and immature “green” beans is complicating harvest. Grain elevators normally pay a lower price for beans that have a mix of ripe and unripened beans.
But Wood said farmers are trying to determine whether to hold off on harvesting in order to give plants more time to ripen, or whether that runs the risk of the already mature beans becoming unharvestable because they fall to the ground.
It has been that kind of year on the farm, Wood said. Farmers have been faced with tough decisions about reducing the size of their livestock herds to match dwindling grass and water supplies.
The hot and dry weather also ravaged the area’s corn crop, leaving farmers left to decide whether to abandon the crop and cut it for livestock silage.
Vajnar said the soybean crop will be better than the area’s corn crop, although at times the soybean crop looked like it would be a complete loss.
“If we would have had two more weeks of hot, dry weather in August, it would have been a real disaster,” Vajnar said. “You would have been looking at much less than half a crop.”
Wood said, in comparison, many area corn farmers made only a third of their traditional yields on corn, if they had a crop to harvest at all.
Crop insurance has helped cover some of those losses. Historically high bean prices — they were a little more than $15 a bushel at most area elevators on Tuesday — also are expected to help the balance sheets of farmers.
“It’s half the crop and twice the price, and most farmers are very thankful they have crop insurance,” Vajnar said.
Larger than expected soybean crops in the northern U.S., however, have caused soybean prices to start falling rather significantly in the last several days, Vajnar said. So area farmers may want to get their crop out of the field quickly.
Both Wood and Vajnar said that shouldn’t be a problem. Harvest likely will be in full swing in the next 10 days, and should be completed by early November.
“When you are only cutting half a load, you can drive a lot faster,” Wood said.