Arkansas soybean farmers are bracing for their worst crop in 10 years. Mold, mildew, and fungus have plagued soybeans that are still in the field, soybean agronomist Jeremy Ross told Talk Business & Politics. Soybean farmers typically harvest 1 to 2% worth of damaged beans, but this year the number has spiked to 5 to 7%, he said.
How much this will cost farmers is uncertain at this point, but even farmers with contracts may be docked 20 to 30% of their contracted rates, Ross said. If the contract was hypothetically for $10 a bushel, dropping that down to $7 or $8 will eliminate the profit margin for many producers, he said. Some truck loads of beans have been outrightly rejected as well, he said.
The damaged beans cover the entire state, and it’s not specific to any given area, he added.
“This is widespread … we’ve got a lot of unhappy farmers right now,” he said.
Unrelenting rains in August and September slowed corn and rice crop harvests, and in turn slowed soybeans, he said. The rains kept fields wet allowing for mold, mildew, and fungus to spread in the fields before the soybeans could be harvested. How this will impact yields is uncertain at this point, but based on the evidence collected at this point, yields will likely be lower.
About 20% of the soybean crop has been harvested, but that figure could jump to 50% this week, Ross said. Farmers and ag sector officials are hopeful the early returns are not indicative of the entire crop, he said. Warm, sunny weather in recent days has helped to dry fields and extend work days so that farmers can get caught up, he added.
U.S. farmers are expected to harvest 4.31 billion bushels, up 30 million bushels from 2017, according to USDA’s National Acreage Statistics Service, or NASS. Yields are expected to be 48.5 bushels per acre.
Soybeans are Arkansas’ top crop, and it’s the second most exported crop from the U.S., according to the NASS. Arkansas soybean farmers harvested 3.5 million acres in 2017, and the crop has a value of $1.74 billion, according to NASS. Farmers had yields of 51 bushels per acre, NASS reported. It costs the average soybean farmer an average of about $415.11 per acre in input and operating costs to plant and harvest a field.
The impact soybeans have had on the Natural State cannot be overestimated. In 2016, 3.1 million acres were harvested in 41 of Arkansas’ 75 counties. The 145.7 million bushels produced has a value of $1.5 billion, almost 20% of the state’s agricultural sector. Farmers had more soybean acres than rice, corn, sorghum, and wheat combined, according to the Arkansas State Plant Board. The state is the tenth largest soybean producer in the U.S., and is projected to produce more than 150 million bushels in 2018.
Soybeans account for more than 90% of all U.S. oil seed production, and is the second most grown crop in the U.S. trailing only corn, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Soybeans are used in livestock feed and in other consumer products.