A mixed blessing

Monday, October 24, 2005
Soybeans were harvested at the farm of John Lorberg of Gordenville. (Diane L. Wilson)

Yields in Southeast Missouri will be spotty, depending on which areas got rain.

Local farmer John Lorberg has experienced both sides of the corn harvest story in 2005 -- yields that are good, but not record breaking, and yields that were not so good.

Lorberg farms two different patches of ground, one near Gordonville, another in Whitewater's Crooked Creek bottoms.

"We've been blessed with this area here near Gordonville," said Lorberg. "To the south and the north it's been a different story."

John Lorberg of Gordenville talked about the challenges of making a living at farming in today's economy.

The farm at Gordonville produced good corn yields and excellent soybean yields, said Lorberg, but the one at Whitewater with corn only didn't.

The big difference was rain.

As this year's harvest rolls toward completion, farmers in Southeast Missouri are reporting the same story. In some areas, yields have been good, but just a few miles away, they've suffered.

Farmers using irrigated land, like Oran farmer Glenn Northdruft, said his corn was good this year, and that a dry year is better for him than a wet year due to his soil type.

For farmers not using irrigation, spotty rains over a dry summer have caused these circumstances. But there is some good news -- where agriculture officials were looking toward a devastating drought midsummer (and some areas have been devastated) Southeast Missouri was largely spared due to heavy July rains from Hurricane Dennis. At least some were spared.

"It's really frustrating when one neighbors gets rain and another neighbor gets nothing," Lorberg said.

The corn crop has been more affected than soybeans, since the beans are more resistant to lack of water and are planted later in the season. This year's lack of rain came at critical times for corn, early in the growing season of late spring.

Gerald Bryan, an agronomist with the University of Missouri Extension in Cape Girardeau County, said he's seen the trend.

"There have been some good yields on corn and soybeans, however the field right next to them might have missed a shower or planted a couple of days earlier might have made half as much."

Some fields were even scrapped, but early for hay and silage, said Bryan. And for those farmers who were so affected, the option of assistance through low-interest loans doesn't help much.

"The last thing a farmer needs is more debt," Bryant said.

It seems that most farmers in Southeast Missouri won't have to resort to those loans, though.

"They've been reporting good yields," said Scott County Farm Services Agency director Kenneth Vowels. "There are some isolated cases where yields are bad, but there always are."

Projected yields as of Oct. 1 for both Missouri and Illinois are below last year's record-breaking numbers for corn and soybeans but not as bad as once expected.

Good weather so far during the harvest season has also helped farmers get the crops out of the field faster.

The story is much the same in Southern Illinois. Like in Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois was one of the few parts of the state that was spared severe drought conditions.

"Southern Illinois was not hit as bad as more northern parts of the state," said Chris Herbert, a spokesperson with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. "When you get to central Illinois, farmers have said the drought was not as bad as they had expected."

But some parts of the state, particularly the north, were devastated by crop loss, once again with some fields totally scrapped.

And yields aren't the only concern for farmers in 2005. Other costs have skyrocketed, such as the diesel fuel needed to run irrigation and farm equipment like tractors and combines, the nitrogen used to fertilize fields and shipping to the Gulf of Mexico has been disrupted by Katrina. At many ports, grain sits on the ground, waiting to be shipped out by barge.

In addition to expenses rising, farmers are getting less money out of their crops. Lorberg estimates he'll lose about $27 per acre on his corn and $21 per acre on his soybeans this year. He's holding on to his corn in hopes that the market will improve, but he worries about the future of farming for his 40-year-old son and 18-year-old grandson.

"In the last 10 years we just have not made much money," said Lorberg. "I'm afraid a lot of farmers are going to have to quit."

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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