Corn yields across the board following drought - Republic-Times | News

Corn yields across the board following drought

By on September 19, 2012 at 9:28 am

Pictured, Dave Reichert empties a truckload of corn at the Gateway FS elevator in Waterloo last Wednesday. (Corey Saathoff photo)

Most area farmers were fearing the worst when it came to this year’s corn crop after the region sustained serious drought conditions most of the summer.

And while many local corn harvest yields have now justified that earlier fear, at least there is something to show for a summer of hard work in the face of adversity.

With much of the harvesting done, farmers are reporting respectable yields in the bottoms area of Monroe County, such as west of Columbia and south near Valmeyer and Fults.

Some fields in the bottoms are averaging about 100 bushels per acre, with ranges of anywhere from 50 to nearly 200 reported. In “the hills” areas of the county located east of the bluffs, there is not as much success. Those yields range anywhere from 40 bushels per acre and under all the way up to 100.

Working for Schuville Farms, Ed Pfeiffer brought in a truckload of corn harvested off Gall Road to the Gateway FS elevator in Waterloo last Wednesday, and the result was around 65 bushels per acre. Last year, this same field yielded around 150 to 160 bushels per acre.

Running a combine through one of his fields on the southeast corner of Route 3 and T Road, Joel Schutt said he harvested about 40 bushels per acre from another plot, but thought he might run between 40 and 100 bushels in this particular field.

“Yields in the bottoms are all over the place,” Gateway FS agronomist Jerry Roosevelt said. “I talked to one farmer who had shelled about 700 acres of corn in the bottoms and his overall average was between 95 and 100 bushels per acre. This is about half his normal yields. So far, the corn yields in the hills are from five bushels per acre and up from there.”

Gateway FS grain merchandiser Dan Martinek said the average yield is only about 25 percent of normal.

“I would say that the bottoms are 95 percent done and the hills are 60 percent done and I would expect that the corn harvest will start to wind down next week,” he said.

Brad Luechtefeld, an area account manager for Pioneer Seeds, said there were many different variables with this year’s corn crop.

“There were a lot of pop-up showers that some got, others didn’t,” he said. “Then there’s the difference of a soil’s water-holding capacity. Some of the areas in the bottoms may have held the water better.”

Luechtefeld said a field in the Columbia bottoms even reported a yield of 200 bushels per acre.

One thing he observed across the entire area was an extreme yield variance within the same field due to the drought.

Farmer Ed Pfeiffer holds a handful of corn that shows the effects of the summer drought. (Corey Saathoff photo)

“There was no real rhyme or reason why,” he said.

Unfortunately, the biggest challenge with this year’s crop is the grain quality, with corn kernels smaller on average and also affected by a mold that can lead to the presence of aflatoxin, a known carcinogen that is toxic to animals and humans at high levels.

“We are testing the inbound corn for aflatoxin, and on average we are finding it in 90 percent of the inbound loads,” Martinek said. “We have to segregate the corn, as the higher levels have to be moved into different markets than the lower levels.”

Fellow Gateway FS official Roosevelt agreed, saying “some loads have tested ‘hot,’ and that is why (they) have been rejected.”

Aflatoxin is emitted from a dark, green mold that occurs naturally and is more pronounced during drought. The Food and Drug Administration considers aflatoxin unsafe for humans and animals at high levels. Excessive exposure can cause liver cancer in humans.

The government permits higher levels of aflatoxin in livestock feed than in corn used for food processing.

Luechtefeld said the aflatoxin has appeared to be more prevalent this year in the higher yielding corn crops.

Asked about whether or not drought-resistant corn might have better served him, Schutt said that if this area had suffered just a drought it might have, but the combination of the drought and extremely high temperatures for several weeks conspired to create extremely difficult conditions regardless of the variety planted.

With input costs for farmers such as equipment and fertilizer running as high as ever to produce a crop, it gets harder and harder to make a profit, Luechtefeld said.

Joel Schutt harvests corn near Route 3 and T Road south of Waterloo. (Alan Dooley photo)

Crop insurance reimbursement depends on factors such as annual production history and return on insurance payments.

“Some farmers have 60 to 70 percent coverage, some 85 percent,” Luechtefeld said. “Some need to take out operating loans every year.”

He added that regardless of the yields seen this year, the summer drought may have lasting effects.

“This will be felt, let me tell you,” Luechtefeld said. “Any extreme changes in the next couple of years could really hurt the farming economy. Equipment guys could also see a pinch.”


Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.