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Drought forces farmers into high-risk gamble

Staff writer

Corn has started flowing to Marion County elevators, but the drought has forced a difficult decision on soybean farmers: cut their losses by baling now to use for feeding livestock, or hang on hoping for the rain that could lead to harvestable cash crops.

“We’re in the middle of a wreck right now,” extension agent Rickey Roberts said. “A few weeks ago I thought we were in slightly better shape than last year. It’s done nothing but get hotter and drier. It’s not looking good for anything right now.”

Jerry Cady, owner of Jerry Cady Insurance Agency in Marion, described the dilemma soybean farmers face.

“At this point it’s kind of like flipping a coin to decide whether to bale or wait,” Cady said. “You have to bale while there’s some hay value there. If you wait too long the crop gets too dry, and there’s no hay value in the crop.”

Farmers who choose to hang on hoping their soybeans will grow enough to harvest the mature beans for sale are at the mercy of the weather.

“If we could get a nice rain it would bring these soybeans on, at least to the point they’re worth harvesting,” Cady said. “If it doesn’t rain, there probably isn’t going to be a soybean crop, or it will be a very small crop.”

Jeanie Bartel and her husband Steve of rural Lehigh have made their decision. When they finish cutting corn, the soybeans are next.

“Our soybeans don’t look good,” Bartel said. “The flowers shriveled up and never even pollinated. We will be swathing and baling by the end of this week.”

The decision is understandable, said Kansas State University agronomist Doug Shoup.

“When that bean starts turning brown it’s pretty much done,” he said.

“Many of the beans in Marion County got planted early, and they’ve been under drought stress all summer. I can understand why some farmers may be looking to pull the trigger.

“It’s a really tough decision.”

Toxic corn

Drought-ravaged corn poses a different problem for farmers who want to use it for feed. It may be poisonous to some of their livestock.

“In periods of drought and heat, at the end of corn season we get a fungus called aspergillus,” Shoup said. “If we get a normal year we don’t have to deal with aflatoxins. Swine, poultry, and dairy cattle are the ones highly susceptible. Growing beef cattle are less susceptible.”

Shoup said aflatoxins have carcinogenic effects and can cause liver damage in some animals.

“Generally, the elevators are going to test for it,” Shoup said.

Dick Tippin, grain manager for Cooperative Grain & Supply in Hillsboro, said some corn has tested positive for aflatoxins.

“So far it hasn’t been too bad — the levels have been fairly low,” Tippin said.

Even if toxins are present, not all is lost.

“There are different levels animals can tolerate,” Shoup said.

He recommended farmers consult with a county extension agent to determine what levels their livestock can tolerate.

Light yields

Tippin said the news for corn yields hasn’t been all bad, either.

“It’s actually probably better than last year, between 40 and 60 bushels an acre,” Tippen said. “Most corn that’s come in is fairly dry — test weights have been from about 50 to 54 pounds per bushel.”

Marion elevator manager Mike Thomas corn coming in now is mostly from upland fields, and test weights are similar to what Tippin has been seeing.

“The better corn is yet to come,” Thomas said. “The bottom land is more forgiving, and there’s some pretty good corn in the valleys.”

Last modified Aug. 2, 2012

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