State expects near-record corn harvest

Friday, August 17, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:11 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

In the midst of soaring temperatures, Missouri still looks to be in for a large corn crop.

According to a Missouri Corn Growers Association news release, the state is expected to have a near-record crop, with a harvest of an estimated 463 million bushels. It would be the largest acreage harvested since 1960, according to the release.

But depending on the timing, a combination of heat and insufficient water can still hurt the harvest. Matthew Miller of the U.S. Department of Agriculture field office in Columbia said he observed some heat-related corn damage in areas near I-70.

“Some fields are totally burned up and dead,” Miller said.

Even with a predicted near-record year for corn, the percentage of crops considered in good and excellent condition has dropped consistently by five or six percentage points a week in the last four to five weeks, Miller said. As of Aug. 12, the percentage of Missouri corn considered in good or excellent shape was 44 percent, according to USDA’a field office crop report.

Local weather variations will likely lead to different corn yields across the state. Paul Gross, a farmer near Corder, and secretary and treasurer of the Missouri Corn Growers Association, said weather conditions are causing some of his corn to mature too quickly.

“I’ve lost yield potential due to the heat and drought,” he said.

Hay production, however, is significantly down. In the midst of summer heat, Central Missouri farmers are still feeling the effects of April’s frost. According to a Missouri Farm Bureau news release, “the freeze killed or stunted thousands of acres of alfalfa and grass forage.”

Keith Schnarre, a northern Boone County farmer, said hay production is down about 30 percent. The shortage is a concern for those who have livestock.

“The cow/calf operator gets hit the hardest,” Schnarre said.

Steven Sapp, manager of Strawberry Hill Farms just outside of Pierpont Village, said if farmers start feeding their livestock bailed hay this month, they will run out by the time winter hits.

“The last two weeks of really burning hot has diminished the hay, to where it’s sitting there not growing,” Sapp said. Exposure to extreme heat also lessens the nutritional value of the hay, Sapp said.

At the outset of the growing season, many farmers anticipated two good hay cuttings, Sapp said. But the weather is not cooperating.

“If we don’t get rain in the next couple weeks, there won’t be another cutting,” he said.

Boone County is not yet in an official drought phase, said Kerry Cordray, spokesman for the water resource center of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. However, if current conditions persist, he said, he “would not be surprised to see [the Drought Assessment Committee] activated soon.”The committee is responsible for officially declaring a drought, analyzing drought conditions in counties throughout the state and advising them on how to respond to it.

The Columbia area was listed as “abnormally dry” as of Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor Web site. The southeastern quarter of the state is experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions.

Earlier this month, the Missouri Farm Bureau urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to temporarily open areas closed as part of the federal Conservation Reserve Program to haying and grazing.

“Producers are extremely concerned about the availability and price of hay,” wrote Charles Kruse, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, in a letter to the USDA.

Sapp has his large hay bails listed at $20 a piece — “a little higher than last year,” he said. Although he has plenty of potential buyers, he has decided not to sell right now.

“We’ve got to see if we can make it through the winter,” he said. He chalked it up to being part of the trade.

“You just have to say, ‘Okay, can we make it one more year?’”

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