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Best scenario for beans, milo is grim

Staff writer

The answer to all Marion County farmers’ problems is rain, and lots of it.

Before a thunderstorm hit the county Friday afternoon, farmers and agriculture workers gathered at the Marion County Fair were disappointed Wednesday and Thursday night. Both nights the sky closed with tantalizingly dark gray clouds, but let loose only a drizzle.

“I was getting excited — ‘it’s gonna rain,’” Kansas State Research and Extension agent Rickey Roberts said. “Then it blew over. That’s discouraging.”

“Usually the fair draws out a rain,” Ag Services employee Jeff Riffel said.

Riffel’s prophetic statement rang true Friday. Minutes after he uttered those words, a deluge of heavy raindrops fell onto Marion County. The parched ground nearly sighed with relief after an inch of rain — the figure according to a recording at Marion Reservoir.

But, farmers know that not even record rainfall will not restore their crops to their former moneymaking potential.

The bad news for farmers is, even with substantial rainfall in August, soybean and milo yields will be significantly lower than previous years.

“There’s no way we haven’t hurt the crop,” Roberts said. “It won’t be a good year.”

That is the absolute best-case scenario. In the worst case, where it may not rain again through August, soybeans and milo would suffer corn’s fate — rolled into hay for animal feed, a future insurance claim.

The current insurance price for soybeans is $13.49 per bushel based on February averages of the Chicago Board of Trade; milo’s insurance price is $5.87 per bushel, according the USDA website.

“They’ll lose a little,” Riffel said of claiming insurance. “Will it be slim for them? Yeah.”

Currently, soybeans, an indeterminate crop, are holding on until they receive the proper amount of moisture. Beans have aborted pod production after blooming, but they will resume the process with significant rainfall.

“The soybean plant has ordered a drink of water,” Roberts said. “’I’ll sit here and wait on you, but I won’t do what you want.’”

Roberts said beans on the edges of fields are already shriveling. The crop will need a rain within the next two weeks to produce a yield.

“It’s a real extreme situation,” Roberts said.

Riffel said beans and milo have both gone into survival mode. Beans cup their leaves and stop respiration at night.

“They’re stressed,” Riffel said. “Technically for crops to do an adequate job it needs to get below 80 at night.”

Milo rolls up to avoid harsh sunlight.

“It’s able to hold on longer,” Riffel said of crops aided by advances in plant genetics. “But it may be a slow death instead of a quick death.”

Regardless of the rate of survival, Riffel said the matter is out of the farmers’ control.

“Mother nature and God will determine it as this point,” he said. “It’s beyond their control.”

Last modified Aug. 3, 2011

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