Missouri farmers are coming to grips with the reality of farming with very little rain. Moisture has been absent most of the growing season, and suffering crops are signs of just how bad the dryness is hitting area fields.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor showed exceptional drought in the area for the first time this summer. Extreme conditions cover 19 percent of the state, and severe drought saw a double-digit jump this week hitting 43 percent of Missouri.
For Daniel Carpenter, he’s seeing the impacts first-hand. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Crop Progress Report showed 44 percent of the state’s corn crop is in “poor to very poor condition,” which was more than 10 points worse than the week prior. Only a quarter of the crop is considered “good to excellent.”
“If you look at a lot of these ears on the outside, they are filled out quite well,” said Carpenter. “If you take a few steps into the field, we've got quite a bit of tip back though, and obviously a much lower quality size of ear.”
He said the ears didn’t fill out due to high heat and lack of rain in late June and early August. The bushels are lacking in a year when prices are also posing pain.
“This year we've just been missing all types of showers, said Todd Gibson, a farmer in Carroll County, Mo.
Some fields in west central Missouri look better than others, and some areas saw only five inches of rain all season. Carpenter said fields like this are showing more promise than most.
“Top end [yield], what we've been seeing in fields right around here, what we've been seeing is 120 to 140 bushels per acre,” said Carpenter.
He said if his expectations hold true, that would be 100 bushels per acre less than last year, and a hint that the "better than expected" yield story may not be in the cards for Missouri farmers this year.
He said area fields already being appraised by insurance adjusters and show just how deep the scars of the 2018 drought may be with some yields in the single digits.
“There have been some fields appraised under 10 bushels per acre, or right at 10, some even down to zero - close to zero,” said Carpenter. “Rainfall was the biggest factor in that, and soil type obviously, too.”
As analysts from outside Missouri trek through fields and assess the damage this year, it's eating away at their yields expectations.
“We saw a lot of pollination issues, a lot of small ears, a couple of the fields that I looked at were 40 to 50 bushels less than what i was maybe expecting to see,” said Matt Bennett of Bennett Consulting.
The headline for Missouri’s harvest this year may be the variability in fields.
“This fall when we go in the combine, we're going to hit some patches that will be absolutely zero, and then hit some areas, that the roots were down and caught some of that subsoil,” said Gibson. “The yield monitor will be all over the board this year.”
A aerial view shows the marks of this year's drought -and the variability of the crop- with pockets of the field toast from high heat and little rain.
“If you get a drone or any sort of aerial vehicle, you can tell up to the line what soil type it is,” said Carpenter.
As the corn dries up, it's a stark resemblance to the drought of 2012.
“We had similar conditions in 2012, but we had the price support to back that up, so we were still able to make something out of it,” he said. “This year with the price support we have being very minimal, low yield and low price doesn't equate to a whole lot.”
It’s reality that's mixed with the hope of living to farm another year.
“The thing is, there's going to be a yield, so we'll harvest it and make some decisions and plans and go again next year,” said Gibson.