Central Missouri farmers do not expect recent dry conditions to affect crop yields significantly this fall.
Parts of Cole and Callaway counties have been abnormally dry for the first time since late April, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Regional farmers said dry and hot conditions this summer could hurt corn and soybean yields slightly. Still, farm experts expect to see above-average yields for corn and soybeans.
The USDA said Sept. 12 that all of Callaway County and small portions of northeastern Cole County had entered "abnormally dry" conditions, the first stage of drought on the department's five-tier drought scale. After spotty heavy rains Monday, the department's report this week removed those portions of Cole County from the map of areas with abnormally dry conditions.
Joni Ross Harper, an agronomy specialist who covers Morgan and Moniteau counties for the University of Missouri's Cole County Extension office, said while it's been dry recently, soybean yields should be higher than expected.
"On average, we're in pretty good shape coming into harvest time," Ross Harper said. "We have been dry. We were getting rain at pretty good times throughout the growing seasons."
Gary Wheeler, executive director of the Jefferson City-based Missouri Soybean Association, said soybean yields statewide look good. Late-planting farmers in northern and north-central Missouri could see yield reductions if dry conditions continue because the reproduction stage — where soybean crops produce beans — could have been interrupted.
"The majority of the state looks pretty good," Wheeler said. "North-central, northeast (Missouri) has been hit for the last three weeks. Unfortunately, some of those reproductive phases could be moderately hit through yields."
Jay Fischer, who farms a couple thousand acres in the Missouri River bottoms just northeast of Jefferson City, said dry and hot conditions in July could hurt yields for May-planted corn.
National Weather Service data shows parts of Jefferson City, including the area where Fischer's farm sits, received about 1-2 fewer inches of rain than normal. Hotter than average temperatures also didn't help.
Jefferson City's average July temperature of 80.2 degrees was 1.7 degrees above normal, according to an August National Weather Service report. In July, temperatures topped 90 degrees 18 times. Temperatures reached 90 degrees or more on 13 days in July 2016, 14 times in July 2015 and four times in July 2014.
"If the corn was planted in April, it pollinated before the dry spell in July. I think that corn is going to be average," Fischer said. "The corn planted in May pollinated during that dry time in July, and it certainly cut the yield some."
Brian Lehman, who farms about 500 acres of corn and 500 acres of soybeans near Versailles, also said he thinks the heat hurt corn crops more than dry conditions.
"It's going to hurt the yield on corn," Lehman said. "Beans, I don't think they were hurt any. Corn will be down a little in spots. Definitely not a real bad drought we encountered."
Fischer also replanted some corn in June because of early season flooding. That corn made it through the summer in good shape, he said.
Still, Wheeler said these conditions are not abnormal for this part of the state, and soybeans can weather droughts.
"The soybean plant can withstand adversity for a period of time," Wheeler said. "It can deal with wet feet. It can deal with dry feet. But the drought dress during vegetation doesn't necessarily impact the soybean yield for short-term basis."
During the reproductive phase of their growth, when soybeans create the edible beans in pods, the soybean uses lots of water that helps fill out the growth. Wheeler said subsoil moisture conditions are good, though topsoil lacks moisture now.
Lehman said, though, there could be a handful of soybean plants that produce fewer beans than normal.
"There will be some pods not filling out completely because we didn't have that late rain and now they're starting to turn," Lehman said. "The size of the bean in the pod will be down a little."
With corn harvests beginning, dry conditions could help corn farmers. Lehman said most farmers prefer to let corn dry in the fields if they can.
"It helps cut the cost a little by having it mature out in the fields versus harvesting it a little earlier," Lehman said.
Fischer said he harvested his earliest planted corn about two weeks ago.
"Corn that's done, you don't want any rain at that point," Fischer said. "The corn itself was dry. It was really nice."
On Sept. 12, the USDA lowered its 2017-18 price forecast for average U.S. corn prices by 10 cents to a range of $2.80-$3.60 per bushel. U.S. average soybean prices were lowered by 10 cents to a range of $8.35-$10.05 per bushel.