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Drought, Low Prices Pummel Soybeans
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- State growers had every reason in mid-summer to expect one of the largest soybean yields ever, but then saw that chance stolen by drought.
Dr. Alan Blaine, soybean specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the lack of rain since mid-July ruined yields of late-planted soybeans, while doing less damage to yields of early planted, early-maturing varieties.
"We had the potential to have the best crop we've ever had," Blaine said. "A lot of the crop was one rain away from making an excellent yield."
By mid-July, the soybean crop looked as good as it ever had, Blaine said. Crops in the Tupelo area were the exception, as heavy rains forced a late replanting.
"In six weeks time, it went downhill," Blaine said.
As of mid-September, the soybean crop was about 30 percent harvested. Early planted fields were bringing average dryland yields from the high 20s to upper 50 bushels per acre with many fields averaging in the 40 to 50 bushel range.
"We're harvesting some above-average yields on dryland acreage, which is better than most people expected considering the weather we've had," Blaine said.
These early varieties escaped most drought damage, but later-maturing beans suffered.
Dr. David Shaw, weed scientist with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said earlier planting and earlier maturing varieties arrive at harvest sooner and benefitted from the abundant rainfall early in the growing season.
"We had such good rain through June and the first half of July so we really recharged soil reserves and that helped make the crop," Shaw said. "Much of the state didn't start to run out of soil moisture until mid-August when the early maturing beans were reaching maturity."
While the projected state average of 25 bushels per acre is decent, Shaw said yields are feast or famine for most farmers.
"The people who planted early are going to do better than average and the people who planted late will do worse than average," Shaw said.
As with most row crops, soybean prices are way down this year. Soybean producers need a good yield to break even, and in nearly all cases are not seeing harvests at that level.
Dr. Tom Jones, Extension agricultural economist, said breakeven prices on a 25 bushel per acre yield are about $5.76 per bushel in Mississippi. Current prices are $4.93 per bushel, compared to $6.05 per bushel in 1998 and $6.90 in 1997.
"Prices are below break even, and if there's going to be an upside, it's that the loan price is above the cash price," Jones said. "We're not looking for the price to go up until 2001, and then we don't expect it to be much higher until 2002 or later."