Wet weather a challenge for Columbia farmers

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | 4:45 p.m. CDT; updated 11:03 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Recent rainfall levels have put the corn growth behind schedule because the soil is too saturated. Planting corn from this date on can decrease the overall yield by 25 percent, said Bill Wiebold, MU plant sciences professor. If farmers have to wait until June to plant corn, he said, the yield decreases even more.

COLUMBIA — Farmers have experienced a wetter-than-average spring for the third year in a row. Corn planting has lagged in the past two weeks, but the state's $1.6 billion crop remains on pace to meet the forecast for total acreage.

Mark Britt, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in St. Louis, said rounds of thunderstorms every few days are the result of an active spring pattern. Britt said the rainfall is not too unusual given that May and June are Columbia’s wettest periods of the year.

Through Tuesday, Columbia had received 4.36 inches of precipitation in May, or 0.39 inches above normal. In April, Columbia received 6.89 inches of precipitation, which is 2.73 inches above normal, said Julie Phillipson of the Weather Service in St. Louis.

“Recent rainfall amounts are keeping us in the category where the soil is probably somewhat moist,” Britt said.

According to farmers, "somewhat moist" is an understatement.

“The field is still extremely wet,” Brett Shryock, owner of Shryocks Callaway Farms, said.

Shryock explained that corn is typically planted in late April, but rain put his planting behind schedule. The corn that is planted is not progressing well because it is trying to grow in saturated soil, he said.

Gene Danekas, director of USDA Agricultural Statistics Service, said 3.3 million acres of corn are projected to be planted in Missouri this year. As of Monday, 88 percent of the corn expected to be planted in Missouri's Central District, where Columbia is located, had been planted.

"Last year, we had about only half of the crop in the Central District emerged at this time," Danekas said.

Planting began earlier this year, he said, but rainfall during the last two weeks has stalled farmers' progress. "We got very little corn planted over the last two weeks," Danekas said.

MU plant sciences professor Bill Wiebold said planting corn from this date on can decrease the overall yield by 25 percent. If farmers have to wait until June to plant corn, he said, the yield decreases even more.

But that is not always the case.

"Last year we had things planted late, but had a near record yield," Danekas said.

The value of 2009 corn production in Missouri was $1.6 billion, and Danekas said he expects this year's value will be close to that amount.

Danekas expects 5.4 million acres of soybeans will be planted in Missouri this year. Soybean planting has just begun at Shryocks' farm. Shryock said the soybeans still have about 100 percent of their yield potential.

“We just need to have some good weather pretty quick in the next two or three weeks,” Shryock said. “If we could have no rain for two or three weeks, I think people will be in pretty good shape.”

Vera Gelder, owner of Walk-About Acres, said honey is her farm’s main business. But heavy rainfall washed the pollen and the nectar out of the flowers, meaning the bees have nothing to eat.

 “With no nectar, there’s no honey,” Gelder said.

According to Gelder, the bees can get back on track as long as the rain holds off.

 "We just don't want to have the gully washers or the downpours of rain all day," she said.

Deanna Pickering owns Pick and Pick with her husband, Sam. She said May’s weather made it almost impossible to do any planting. Her greens beans suffered the most. Cold temperatures combined with the rain did nothing to help the vegetables.

“The plants are just sitting there, trying to decide whether they are going to live or not,” Pickering said.

Forecasts from the Weather Service indicate that Shryock and Gelder might get their wish.

“It looks like at least through Memorial Day weekend, we aren’t going to see threats for significant precipitation,” Phillipson said. “It should be pretty dry.”

Pickering said that is the best news she had heard in a while.

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