Local farmers bringing soybeans to market

The morning sun rises over a field of soybeans south of Waterloo. (Alan Dooley photo)

Soybeans, the third side of a grain triangle that makes up much of Monroe County’s field harvest picture, are coming to market steadily in recent days.  Wheat and corn, along with the beans they preceded to market, have presented a widely varied story this summer and fall.

Prices for all three commodities are down this year after record returns in recent seasons.  And quantities and qualities run the gamut from very good to not so much.

The high stakes gamble that characterizes farming has included weather challenges, low prices due to overhangs of record crops last year and uncertain overseas demands. It is even impacted by the foreign exchange rate, with the high-priced dollar making it easy to buy foreign cars but difficult to sell farm commodities.

Overall, farmers with adequate storage to hold harvested crops are projecting higher prices in coming months. Those who have to sell now are seeing smaller returns. Another uncertainty is the volatile Chinese market, the buyer of a large amount of grains.

Bean production has varied across the region, depending on when and where they were planted. Beans planted at the right time, in well-drained soil, have produced excellent yields.  In other instances, replanting has been necessary when early growth was stunted.

Michael Biethman, a Gateway FS grain trader, reported one instance he was aware of in which a farmer has planted three times this year.

“And now the resulting beans are short and green. He may not get much, if any harvest. Overall,“ Beithman concluded, “it’s frankly not shaping up to be a great year for soybeans.”

Gateway FS’s Adam Parker reported that nationwide, half of all corn remains to be harvested while 40 percent of beans are out of the fields.

“Here in Monroe and Randolph counties, though, it is sort of the opposite. Here we have brought in three-fourths of the corn and only about 20 percent of the beans.”

When the Republic-Times visited the Gateway FS elevator in Waterloo, we got a snapshot of how beans vary in quality and value.
Randy Floarke said a good bushel of beans weighs 60 pounds.  That measure is called test weight.

“Below 54 pounds, we have to discount the price we can pay,” he said. “There is just less product in each bushel if test weights are down.”

Other factors include moisture content and foreign material mixed in with the delivered crop. The latter includes weed seeds and stalks.  Damage to the beans also results in lower prices paid.

Individual farmers echoed the story of varied methods and results.

Delbert Wittenauer, who farms both in the bottoms and on higher ground inland, agreed that yields were better in higher areas with better drainage. He also explained that there are a broad variety of beans to choose from that mature at different rates.

“This year, the rewards for high yields are going to farmers with higher, better drained fields,” he said.

Wittenauer further explained different crops like different conditions.

“Beans like heat and water.  Corn likes sun and cool nights,” he said. “What works well this year may not work next year.  Each year offers a different environment. And even ‘magic’ treatments, while delivering higher yields, may not in the end be economical to employ.”

John Niebruegge, who lives south of Valmeyer and farms in the bottoms, reported varied results in his own fields. He planted an early maturity variety in one area and was rewarded with an 82-bushel-per-acre yield.

On the other hand, he later lost 300 acres of beans to heavy rains. He hopes for success with a second planting and even replanted 400 acres that were flooded part of the summer, putting seeds in the ground Aug. 10.

“I’ve planted that late before,” Niebruegge said.  “Some people doubt the wisdom of that, but I think I’m going to be OK, especially if we still have some warm weather.”

Josh Matthews, who lives and farms between Waterloo and Hecker, said he received good results with beans planted earlier in the season – 55 to 57 bushels per acre. Another plot planted later will be ready to harvest as soon as it dries a little more, he added.

In the end, 2015 has been a year of wide ranging crop yields – some very good and some resulting in little to no reward for hard work.

Results, even good, have been tempered by low prices paid for grains.

As reported before, farmers are resilient, resourceful and more than a little determined to succeed.  So as readers see harvests going forward around the county, know that farmers in the fields are already planning for 2016.

What will they plant?  When and where?  How and when will the treat with fertilizers and chemicals?

They simply believe. Strongly.

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Alan Dooley

Alan is a photojournalist -- he both shoots pictures and writes for the R-T. A 31-year Navy vet, he has lived worldwide, but with his wife Sherry, calls a rambling house south of Waterloo home. Alan counts astronomy as a hobby and is fascinated by just about everything scientific.
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