A hill of beans: Soybean yields likely to decline
Usually, nobody beats our beans.
This year, however, nobody knows who will come out ahead in the agricultural statistics contest.
After a summer of drought, Rock County's soybean fields are starting to change color and dry down.
"In general, the harvest is going to be OK, in some cases good," UW Extension Crops and Soils Agent Jim Stute said. "It's true, the plants are shorter, but the rain came when they were blossoming."
That helped fill out the pods and could lead to "respectable yields," Stute said.
Much depends, of course, on where the crops are located in the county. Soil conditions vary greatly, especially when it comes to water-holding capacity.
This summer, that was more important than ever.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts Wisconsin's soybean production will be down almost 18 percent from 2011, and yields are expected to average about 36 bushels per acre, down 10 bushels from last year.
Meanwhile, soybean futures on the Chicago Board of Trade reached a new high in September of $17.70 per bushel, with prices being driven by concerns about the final outcome of the crop during a drought year.
That will have an effect on Rock County's beef and dairy producers.
"The primary product of soybean is the meal," Stute said. "The meal is feed to livestock."
Meal is a source of protein, as are distillers' grains, which are a byproduct of ethanol production.
Nationally, the USDA is predicting that corn yields will be down 13 percent from 2011, the lowest production rate since 2006.
That translates to a highly competitive market for corn and a decreased supply of distillers' grains.
"Feed, in general, is going to be very expensive," Stute said.
Livestock producers and grain farmers already were hit hard, and this will be a second blow.
Rock County has consistently come in first in Wisconsin for the number of bushels of soybeans harvested. In 2010, Rock County farmers harvested 4.82 million bushels of soybeans with a yield of about 56 bushels per acre.
Agriculture contributes about $1.45 billion in business sales in Rock County and contributes about $445 million to the county's income.
What will fair to middling soybean harvest mean for the economy?
Fortunately, farmers are coming off two record years.
"In general, there's going to be a lot less equipment purchased," Stute said. "A lot of people have already upgraded their equipment and paid down their debt."