The state of Missouri is facing a grim agricultural reality as drought conditions continue to wreak havoc on the livelihoods of farmers. The severity of the situation became painfully apparent in mid-July, when many farmers discovered the extent of the damage inflicted on their corn crops. This dire scenario is playing out particularly in central and eastern Missouri, where entire fields of corn failed to pollinate, casting a shadow on what was initially anticipated to be a bumper crop.
Kyle Samp, a farmer from Cairo, Mo., shares the plight that has befallen his family and fellow farmers. This year's corn crop, initially poised to be one of their most productive, was severely impacted by the extended dry spell. Samp recounts that some of their fields have received just a few inches of rain throughout the year, a starkly insufficient amount for healthy crop growth.
As one traverses the region, the visible signs of the distressing situation are hard to ignore. The outer rows of corn fields bear the brunt of the arid conditions, with plants displaying lackluster color and burnt lower leaves, indicators of the water scarcity. Samp explains, "Looking at these outside rows, this is what I would expect for as dry as it's been, where the plants don't have a good color and all the bottom leaves are burned up. That's what I'd expected to see."
However, this is just the surface of the issue. Upon closer inspection, the fields may appear lush and green, creating a deceptive illusion of resilience against the drought. Unfortunately, as Samp peels back the husks of the corn ears, the grim reality becomes apparent. The drought has caused significant damage, resulting in poorly pollinated corn ears with missing kernels. Samp demonstrates, "We've got an ear here where you can see we have a lot of misses on part of it. We have plants right next to it that you know the silks are starting to dry up."
This pattern repeats as Samp examines multiple ears in his fields. The effects of the drought on pollination are undeniable, with some ears bearing only a few kernels or no pollination at all. Samp reveals, "We have four plants in a row that are going to be kind of the same thing where we have a few kernels on this ear, but by and large, we didn't pollinate at all."
Regrettably, the issue of fields failing to pollinate is widespread, extending beyond Samp's immediate area. As one travels eastward from his farm, the problem exacerbates. Some fields have experienced complete failure in pollination, resulting in barren plants, while others exhibit incomplete pollination.
The primary culprit behind this agricultural crisis is the unrelenting drought. Although recent heat waves could potentially cause further damage, the core problem stems from the prolonged absence of rain. Samp emphasizes, "It just hasn't rained. I mean, a lot of these fields, we haven't had three inches of rain on them since we planted them. And some of them have had less than two. We can't grow corn if we only have two inches of rain."
Data from the USDA's weekly crop progress report paints a grim picture for Missouri's crop conditions this year. Only 25% of the corn crop is rated as good to excellent, and the soybean crop fares slightly better at 28%. These ratings are significantly lower than the national average, underscoring the severity of the situation in the state.
The lack of rainfall during the earlier part of the summer led to a delayed realization of the extent of the damage. Samp recalls, "It's probably about 10 days ago, we started kind of checking a few ears to see what we had out here. And I was like, ‘Man, this doesn't look good.’ I started checking more, and before it was all said and done, we were out in every field kind of seeing what we had. Ten days ago was kind of a bad day here."
Despite the potential he saw in his crops, Samp's optimism was dashed by the reality of the situation. He had invested in inputs, including fungicides, hoping for a favorable outcome. However, the lack of rain combined with critical growth stages dealt a severe blow to his plans.
Moving forward, Samp is pinning his hopes on soybeans. He acknowledges that the corn yield will be significantly diminished. However, he remains optimistic that timely rains could salvage the soybean crop. While he acknowledges that achieving 100 bushels per acre in soybean yields is unlikely, he aims for a more attainable 60 to 70 bushels per acre. Recent rainfall has provided a glimmer of hope for his soybean prospects.