COLUMBIA – As their crops wither, mid-Missouri soybean farmers are stuck in a mode of wait and see.
The heat and lack of rain have taken a toll on the crop, and all of Boone County is in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Besides farmers' livelihoods, a low yield will affect various industries that use soybeans, such as biodiesel fuel, food for people and livestock and even printer ink.
Bill Wiebold, MU plant sciences professor and soybean specialist, sees a tough autumn for farmers.
"For some reason, it looks like Boone County has missed a few of those little showers that have gone around," he said. "So, things are a little worse here in Boone County."
If the high temperatures and dry conditions hold, Wiebold said, plants will die.
"Right now, they're wilting," he said. "They'll go from that kind of thing to dead with crispy leaves if we keep temperatures over 100 degrees."
Farmers like Jay Fischer, who has corn and soybean fields on roughly 1,500 acres in the Missouri River bottoms near Jefferson City, are running out of time.
"I had hopes a couple weeks ago if we picked up some rain they'd set some pods, but it's not looking good at this point," he said. "I don't have a lot of hope."
Fischer's neighbors have talked about mowing over their soybean crop and turning it into cattle feed. Fischer is not ready to do that yet, but says that by the third week of August he'll know what to do.
According to the most recent weekly survey of Missouri soybeans by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service:
- 37 percent of crops are in very poor condition, up 26 percent from six weeks ago
- 37 percent of crops are in poor condition, up 13 percent from six weeks ago
- 20 percent of crops are in fair condition, down 19 percent from six weeks ago
- 5 percent of crops are in good condition, down 19 percent from six weeks ago
- 1 percent of crops are in excellent condition, down 1 percent from six weeks ago
With 74 percent of crops in poor or very poor condition, farmers lack options.
In Boone County, the situation is even worse.
"We're probably a little higher that 74 percent," Wiebold said. "There's not much soybean-wise in the county that's looking very good at all."
Kelly Forck, another soybean farmer and president of the Missouri Soybean Association, sees the situation in grim, simple terms: "We're challenged due to a lack of moisture. There's just not that much to say."
Forck calls soybeans a forgiving plant that can rebound from extreme heat, but he said his plants' days are numbered.
"It is what it is," Forck said. "It would be nice to see some rainfall to produce a little better crop, but the longer we go, the closer to zero we're going to see in our yields."