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Low Prices, Yields Hurt Soybean Crop
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi soybean growers are going into harvest hoping to survive a year of bad yields made worse by bad prices.
Early in the growing season, high temperatures and drought were the crop's worst enemies. Non-irrigated and early maturing Group IV soybeans were hardest hit. As harvest neared, prices fell, compounding the disastrous effects of low yields.
Yields have averaged 25 to 27 bushels an acre, compared to 1997's average of 31 bushels. Prices are currently about $5.30 per bushel, rather than a normal price of $6.80.
Dr. Alan Blaine, Mississippi State University Extension agronomist, said by mid-September, about 20 percent of Mississippi's crop had been harvested.
"You can't make a crop on no rain and the kind of heat we had. This is the toughest crop we've had since 1980," Blaine said. "With few exceptions, we have a better crop than we should have considering the extremes we've experienced."
Blaine said in the 1980s, Mississippi would have had statewide average yields of 16 to 18 bushels an acre in a year like this. This year's yield is expected to be higher because of different farming practices such as early planting, early maturing varieties, improved irrigation schedules and better varieties. About 400,000 of the state's 2 million soybean acres are irrigated, Blaine said.
Ed Hester of Benoit farms 2,200 acres of soybeans in Bolivar and Washington counties. He raises Group V beans, but said growers in his area harvesting Group IV soybeans are averaging 17 bushels an acre on non-irrigated land.
"I haven't heard many good yield reports," Hester said. "Some are harvesting as little as 3 to 7 bushels per acre on non-irrigated Group IV soybeans. Hopefully that's the worst, but the rest remains to be seen."
About 60 percent of Hester's acreage is irrigated, but he said he anticipates his harvest to be much lower than last year when he averaged 36 bushels an acre.
"My soybeans go from the 7 bushel range to hopefully much better," Hester said. "The ones we irrigated will be fairly good beans, but I probably could save money by not harvesting the ones that had no irrigation."
With prices as low as they are, many growers will not break even on much of their acreage. Dr. John Robinson, Extension ag economist, said a 5 bushel per acre yield would require prices of $32.60 per bushel to break even. A 25 bushel yield breaks even at $6.52 per bushel, while those harvesting 40 bushels per acre break even at $4.08 a bushel.
Dr. David Shaw, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station weed scientist, said yields this year were hurt by droughts in June and August and extremely high temperatures throughout the growing season.
Rain in early August was a mixed blessing to soybean growers. Most of the Delta received between 1 and 3.5 inches of rain.
"The rain came just right for some people, a little later for others and is just getting in the way for those who are harvesting," Shaw said. "Later maturing plants may not be hurt as badly because of the rain we've gotten, but we've had enough dry weather that their yields will be affected some."