Despite a severe lack of rainfall in August, known in farming circles as the month when soybeans are made, area farmers are finding their bean yields are better than expected, in some cases far better.
“It’s not too terrible,” Milan farmer Jim Coyne said. “We’re getting anywhere from 40 bushels an acre to the high of 50 bushels an acre.”
The wide range, he said, is expected given that the lower numbers are in lighter soils, while the higher yields are in fields with heavier soil that held its moisture longer as the drought expanded.
“Before I began harvesting my beans, I was thinking that yields would be in the 30-bushel-an-acre range, and possibly lower in the lighter soils,” Coyne said. “I’m pleasantly surprised by what I’m finding.”
Although Coyne was happy about what he has found, Bennett, Iowa, farmer Mike Wilkins said he is “tickled” by his soybean yields. Earlier in the harvest season, he was worried about what he would find.
“I would guess I’m in the 58-60 bushel-per-acre range,” Wilkins said. “That’s a lot better than I expected. In our case, our tilled ground produced better than our no-till ground, and I thought it would be the opposite. You have to understand, though, that our tilled ground is better ground than our no-till ground.”
Wilkins added that there were some fields around the Tipton area that didn’t fare as well, but overall, the soybean harvest in his area of the state is better than many expected.
Agronomist Virgil Schmitt of the Iowa State University Extension in Muscatine said he is finding farmers in the Quad-City region pleased with their yields, “given what the crop went through.”
“Yields aren’t as high as last year because of the timing of the drought,” Schmitt said. “Last year, we had rain in August.”
Only .76 of an inch of rain fell in August, which is 3.76 inches below normal, according to National Weather Service, Davenport, statistics. In September, only .96 of an inch of rain fell in the Quad-City region, which is 2.13 inches below normal for the month.
“In general, the area seems to be averaging 40-50 bushels an acre on soybeans,” Schmitt said. “I’ve even heard an occasional 70-bushel an acre. We thought it would be a lot worse.”
The last soybean condition report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on Sept. 29 before the government shutdown, rated soybean conditions in Illinois as 2 percent very poor, 9 percent poor, 33 percent fair, 47 percent good and 9 percent excellent.
In Iowa, the statistics service rated soybeans then as 9 percent very poor, 18 percent poor, 38 percent fair, 31 percent good and 4 percent excellent.
In the Oct. 21 report, the service indicated that soybean conditions had improved modestly in both states. In Illinois, soybeans were rated as 2 percent very poor, 7 percent poor, 29 percent fair, 52 percent good and 10 percent excellent.
Iowa's soybeans were rated 8 percent very poor, 15 percent poor, 35 percent fair, 36 percent good and 6 percent excellent.
Darrel Good, an agricultural marketing professor at the University of Illinois, said corn and soybean prices on the futures markets have fallen because of the better-than-expected harvests.
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At the beginning of the year, corn futures were above $7 a bushel, and at points in 2012, corn futures were at $8 a bushel.
Soybeans lately have hovered from lows in the $11-a-bushel range to more than $14 a bushel. At one point within the past 12 months, soybeans were in the $16-a-bushel range.
Corn futures closed Friday at $4.40 a bushel for corn, and $13 a bushel for soybeans. There are indications, however, that stronger demand is having an upward push on those prices once again.
Good said the USDA is forecasting food prices to increase from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent in 2014. If the lower prices hold, he said, "I would think the lower grain prices now being experienced would result in food price increases at the lower end of the projection for 2014."
With harvest just about completed, farmers can now have the next five months or so to worry if there will be enough soil moisture for spring planting.
The Quad-City region is now in a severe drought heading into the driest time of the year.
“The drought doesn’t mean much this time of year because most plants are essentially dormant, and we’re getting so cold, it’s not going to matter,” said meteorologist Bill Nichols of the National Weather Service, Davenport.
“The key will be what happens in March, April and May. It’s the same song we were singing at this time last year before heavy spring rains ended the drought and in some cases delayed planting.”