COLUMBIA — Withered corn stalks rise only a few feet from the dry, cracked ground. Beside them stand 6-feet-tall, healthy-looking green stalks.
Jay Fischer, who farms about 1,500 acres near the Missouri River about three miles from Jefferson City, has to search through green stalks for about two minutes to find a single ear of corn in his crop. The healthy-looking stalks aren’t much better off than the poorest plants. The heat caused problems with the pollination of the crop, and the part of his crop that was planted in the sandiest soil is dead.
“It's been awful discouraging,” Fischer said.
Corn, wheat and soybean prices are most immediately affected by the weather, and they've already gone up. Meat prices will rise in the coming months — another effect of the bad corn crop, said Pat Westhoff, director of Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at MU.
Corn prices were at $7.75 per bushel on Friday, Fischer said.
But exactly when other food prices will rise as the result of the increase in corn prices depends on the food, explained Ronald Plain, professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics at MU.
Sweet corn: Prices are already up. The quantity and quality are very low, so the impact on prices was quick.
Chicken: Prices will increase in the fourth quarter.
Pork: Prices will rise in a year, with higher prices expected in the summer of 2013.
Soybeans: In addition to suffering from a lack of water, Missouri soybeans are also under assault by a pest that commonly attacks the plants during drought conditions – the spider mite.
The tiny creatures live on the undersides of leaves and suck already limited moisture from them, a news release from the MU Cooperative Media Group said.
If left untreated, soybean plants will die as a result of the pests, the release said.
Though one good rain would help the problem, the currently persisting drought and heat could mean the continued presence of mites, and consequently an even greater increase in soybean prices.
Beef: Prices won't rise until 2015. There is a longer delay because of the longer gestational period of calves.
The price of feed for livestock will also climb as corn is one of its primary ingredients.
Joe Haley, sales associate at the Bourn Feed and Supply Incorporated, hasn’t seen retail prices go up yet but thinks it is just a matter of time.
Anticipating that expense, many livestock farmers are reducing their herds, Westhoff said. The lower supply will put more pressure on meat prices.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reduced its projected national average yield for corn this year by 30 percent. That's the largest reduction Westhoff has seen by the department from one month to the next.
Normally, Fischer gets around 150 to 200 bushels per acre from the 700 acres of corn he farms. This year, he will be happy to get 70 or 80 bushels per acre, he said.
Typically, he sells his corn to Cargill. The higher price for corn will help offset the financial effects of the bad crop this year, but it will never make up for the bad season, he said.
To make matters worse for prices, the country's corn reserves were already low due to an increase in corn use worldwide, said Pat Oswald, assistant manager at the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator Inc.. That includes the use of corn in ethanol, he said.
Some insurance agencies are suggesting farmers with a bad crops harvest their corn early and use it as silage to feed the livestock, according to a news release from the MU Cooperative Media Group. However, most farmers don’t have the proper equipment or storage space. Less than 5 percent of the current corn crop is likely to be harvested for silage, Oswald estimated.
If it stays hot and dry, Fischer may look into equipment to silage his corn crop.
Two inches of rain fell on his farm on Sunday. Sunday's rainfall was the first reaching over half an inch since the first week in May, Fischer said.
“Pray for rain,” he said.