FOCUS ON AGRICULTURE: Avoid making drastic changes from drought, but diversify crops and reevaluate seeding rates

Posted: Dec. 13, 2012 9:47 am Updated: Jan. 10, 2013 12:15 pm


University of Missouri Extension agronomy specialist Bill Wiebold says farmers shouldn't make drastic changes in their operations based on one year's experience from the drought.

But he suggests diversifying crops and reevaluating seeding rates based on soil conditions in the area, rather than across the varied geographical areas of the state.

"Understanding where you're farming is important," he said. "What is the water supply where you live? What are the typical weather patterns where you live?"

Early data indicates that corn and soybean yields were well below trend lines. Final numbers from USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service likely won't be available until early 2013.

Crop productivity is a good indicator of drought intensity. "Drought severity, as calculated by corn yield loss, was greater in 2012 than for any year within the past 50 years," Wiebold said.

Missouri soybean yields may be greater than USDA predictions due to rains from Hurricane Isaac in late August. "It just shows how resilient soybeans are," he said.

Late-maturing varieties were helped more by Isaac than other varieties. Wiebold's research shows the greatest soybean yield loss from drought came in 1983, 1984 and 2012.

While many farmers compared the 2012 drought to that of 1988, predicted yield loss for 2012 is double that of 1988. Additionally, 1988's yield losses were located primarily in the northern third of the state.

Corn and beans respond differently to drought due to the different pollination periods. Corn has a 10-day period, and temperatures above 100 degrees hit when much of Missouri's corn crop was pollinating and silking. Stress on plants at this stage reduced the number of fertilized flowers, and stress after silking resulted in increased kernel abortion or reduced seed size.

By contrast, soybeans have a 30-day period and a "built-in reserve capacity" that can make internal modifications to stress during pod development. Stress at this time reduces the number of flowers and small pods that remain on the stalk. Stress during seed filling can result in additional pod abscission, arrested development of seeds in retained pods and reduced seed size.

Pork profitability

A return to profitability for pork producers may be on the not-too-distant horizon by the spring of 2013.

There still are losses to sustain for the rest of this year and the first quarter of 2013 when losses are estimated at about $15 per head. But live hog prices are expected to increase enough to reach break even by early May 2013 and provide for positive returns of around $10 per head in the second and third quarters. Lower feed prices late next summer are expected to sustain a profitable industry into the fall of 2013 and winter of 2014.

"If United States and world crop yields are closer to normal in 2013, the pork outlook should brighten, and thoughts of expansion will begin in the late summer of 2013," Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt said. "Some producers may want to ‘jump the gun' and get expansion started in the spring of 2013. However, one glance at the current ‘Drought Monitor' tells us that normal yields in the United States for 2013 are far from assured. This uncertainty should keep most producers from expansion fever until the crops are more nearly assured in late July and August."

While pork producers are beginning to feel that the worst is behind them, the 2012 losses will leave an imprint in the form of reduced equity.

"Estimated losses for 2012 are about $17 per head. The most severe losses of nearly $30 per head came in the last half of the year as drought drove feed prices upward and weakened hog prices," Hurt said. "The era of high feed prices has been difficult for all of the animal production industries including pork producers who lost money in three of the last five years -- 2008, 2009 and again in 2012. For those that did not panic, it now appears the sun will rise again and the dawn of profitability will once again return."

Compiled by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Deborah Gertz Husar.