Little rain means county farmers are seeing lower yields as harvest time hits

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Ask Chuck Deputy of the Switzerland County Farm Service Agency office about this year’s crop conditions now that harvest is underway, and he will tell you that his office is seeing a wide range of yields early in the harvest process – but that there isn’t much optimism for what may come later.

“We’re going to see a wide range this year,” Chuck Deputy said. “Actually the early numbers that I’ve been hearing are not as bad as I anticipated them being, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens countywide.”

Chuck Deputy said that the early harvest figures are coming from the river bottom areas of the county, and that early corn yields from there are running between 120-140 bushels per acre. Normally yields in the river bottoms are around 200 bushels per acre.

“Some of the corn that is being harvested in the middle parts and the northern parts of the county are running 80 to 100 bushels per acre,” Chuck Deputy said. “Normally those yields are between 130-140 bushels per acre, so yields are going to be down.”

Chuck Deputy said that corn planted early seems to be having better results because of the early summer rains that hit the county; but late corn is really struggling because of the drought conditions.

“Some of the later planted corn could be in the 50 to 80 bushel per acre range,” he said.

One of the bright spots is that because of the increase in ethanol fuel production, the price of corn is strong and high and should stay there. That means that although the yields are down, the higher price should help local farmers financially.

“But it’s also a missed opportunity,” Chuck Deputy said. “Farmers here will probably finish with an average profit margin, because of the strong prices, but compared to what the profits could have been if we would have had normal rainfalls, people didn’t get the chance to really have a strong year.”

Chuck Deputy said that future prices on corn are still going up, so he expects some Switzerland County farmers to store their crops and price it into next year.

Another negative with the high corn prices is that it is putting a real burden on livestock producers in the county and in other areas who normally feed corn.

“When you’re talking about $3-$4 corn, it’s hard to feed that to livestock when you’ve got that kind of price,” Chuck Deputy said.

The county’s soybean crop harvest is also underway, and again Chuck Deputy said that lower yields will be seen throughout the area.

“Harvesting in the river bottoms has started, and the yields are running around 30-40 bushels per acre,” Chuck Deputy said. “The normal yield is about 50, so we’re looking at about a 20-percent decrease.”

He said that once figures start coming in from the “rolling fields” around the county that would have a hard time trapping moisture, the yields could fall further than that. He said that most soybeans are about the size of a BB, while the normal size is around the size of a pea. The lack of moisture has caused the soybeans to shrivel.

“They’re about half the size that they should be,” Chuck Deputy said.

He also said that producers are seeing soybean pods that aren’t completely filled out. Where normally a farmer would fine three beans in each pod, this year most pods contain two beans – and some only have a single bean.

All of this is caused by the hot weather and lack of moisture.

Soybean prices are still staying relatively high, over $5 in most places – but again it’s a matter of what is compared to what could have been.

“The profit line is that we’re going to have about half of our normal crop than we should have had,” Chuck Deputy said. “So $6 beans are really $3 beans when it comes to a producer’s profit margin.”

The tobacco harvest is well underway, with Chuck Deputy estimating that more than 60-percent of the county’s crop is done.

And – like everything else – the dry weather has had an impact.

“The normal yield is 1,500- to 1,800-pounds per acre,” Chuck Deputy said. “I think we’re probably looking at yields between 1,100 and 1,200 on average. Because of the lack of rain, the leaf is a lot smaller than in normal years.”

Tobacco growers do have contracts with tobacco companies, so their price is locked in based on grade, but the smaller leaves will mean smaller yields.

Of all of the crops in Switzerland County, perhaps none has been hit as hard as hay and pasture lands.

“Livestock producers are hurting worse than anybody,” Chuck Deputy said. “Most farmers only got one cutting of hay, so we’re looking at a 50- to 60-percent drop in production. A lot of guys here locally don’t have anymore hay, and can’t find it.”

The lack of rainfall has also meant that farmers are being forced to haul water to provide for their livestock – water that would normally come from farm ponds or streams.

“Water is getting to be an issue now at this point,” Chuck Deputy said. “Ponds and springs are drying up.”

Could rain now help at all?

Chuck Deputy said that rainfall now would help with the ponds and streams, and could also have a positive impact on the fall pasture situation; as well as helping the water situation heading into the winter.

“This really isn’t over yet,” Chuck Deputy said. “Hopefully we’ll get a wet fall and get back to normal. If we don’t get water, things could be even worse next spring.”