WASHINGTON, July 3, 2012 -Scattered rain and windstorms wreaked havoc over the weekend, while bringing welcome moisture to some regions of the U.S. But it was not enough rain to dispel mounting concerns about the nation’s corn, soybean and other crops.

“The week ending July first will go down as one of the worst weeks on record for crops across the Central Plains, the lower Midwest, the Mid-South and parts of the Southeast,” noted USDA Weather Analyst Brad Rippey.

In its annual acreage report on Friday, USDA said farmers planted more corn and soybeans than traders had expected, with the corn area the largest since 1937 and soybean plantings the third highest ever. But actual harvests are in doubt as crop conditions have deteriorated for the fourth week in a row, raising concerns that losses will mirror the historic drought year of 1988.

As Agri-Pulse Contributing Editor Jim Webster wrote on Sept. 19, 1988:

"The corn estimate is 4.46 billion bushels, down 37 percent from last year, with an average yield of 78.5 bushels, down 34 percent from 119.4 in 1987 and the largest yield decline on record. Soybean production is estimated at 1.47 billion bushels, 23 percent below 1987, and yield is seen at 25.9 bushels per acre, compared with 33.7 in 1987."

“Probably the next two weeks will really determine what our yield will be,” said William Wiebold, professor of plant sciences in the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. The next couple of weeks are critical for corn pollination, because silk growth and tassel pollen-shed must be in sync to create corn kernels. That coordination relies on water, he said.

USDA on Monday rated only 48 percent of the U.S. corn crop as good/excellent, plunging from 56 percent the previous week. Correspondingly, corn rated very poor to poor climbed sharply from 14 to 22 percent in that same week.

Just 45% of U.S. soybeans rated good to excellent, down from 53% the previous week; while soybeans rated very poor to poor jumped from 15% to 22%.

Illinois and Indiana are among the Midwest states hardest hit by drought, which rank second and fifth in corn output. In each state, less than 40% of the young corn crop is now rated in good to excellent condition. Farmers in Southeast Missouri are also watching crops deteriorate.

Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock, who farms in southern Indiana, witnessed mostly zeroes in his rainfall report during June, with one field getting a “whopping” half-inch for the entire month. This past June was the third driest in Indiana, according to USDA records dating back to 1930, ranking only behind 1988 and 1933. Livestock producers in his state are already scrambling to figure out how to source feed for this fall and winter.

Villwock told Agri-Pulse that corn planted on non-irrigated sandy fields is mostly destroyed, with much of what’s left being chopped for silage or disked up.

“Soybeans were hanging in pretty good shape until this past week of 100+ degree heat,” Villwock said.  “First crop soybeans got up to the 3-6 inch stage and have been there for 30-45 days. But this past week, they were even turning pale white in the middle of the day. All of the double crop soybeans ‑ even thought they were planted two weeks early ‑ are lying in dry dirt over much of the state. Some seeds that did get a shower to germinate soon died for lack of a follow up rain.”

Villwock says most farmers have some level of crop insurance and will recover a portion of their economic losses. But this year’s drought should serve as a not-so-subtle reminder to members of Congress who are crafting a new five-year farm bill.

“During early debate on the 2012 farm bill, Indiana farmers stepped up and agreed to do away with direct payments, ethanol subsidies and other price supports in exchange for a strong and viable crop insurance program,” Villwock added. “A farmer’s biggest risk is the weather, a fact that is being hammered home in a big way this year, and weakening our current federal crop insurance program is unconscionable.”

Lawmakers and USDA officials are starting to look for ways to provide some relief across drought-stricken regions. For example, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman declared a statewide emergency to help deal with wildfires and parched fields. Missouri’s congressional delegation called on USDA to release Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands to ease the enormous stress on livestock producers. The USDA National Organic Program granted a temporary variance to livestock operations suffering with ways to find forage in Wyoming.



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