Delaware crop harvest yielding mixed results

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DOVER — Statewide corn harvest, now in full swing, is projected to produce a near average yield. Soybean harvest, which typically begins in middle to late October, has a less optimistic forecast.

Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee noted the forecasts are based mostly on weather conditions during each crop’s maturity phase.

“Corn makes most of its yield when it goes to tassel in July and early August,” Mr. Kee said. “It was a bit too hot then, but there was adequate rain. We’re expecting a statewide average of somewhere around 150 bushels per acre, maybe a little more. It’s not great, but it’s not a disaster.”

Soybeans, on the other hand, have seen excessive heat and dryness this season. As a result, that crop likely will sag 20 bushels from its state average of 40 bushels per acre, Mr. Kee estimates. Because of this, harvest may begin sooner than it would have otherwise.

“This year, because the soybeans are drying down so quickly, I would not be surprised to see some harvested at the end of September and early October,” says Mr. Kee.

Seaford farmer Cory Atkins, who farms 300 acres of corn, 300 acres of soybeans and 200 acres of vegetables says that while rains early last week may have helped, it’s unlikely they will have made much difference to yield.

“Irrigated soybeans should still be pretty good, but dryland soybeans have taken a nasty beating,” Mr. Atkins said.

Excessive heat and dryness earlier in the growing season likely will cause a decrease in the soybean yield in Delaware. (Delaware State News/K.I. White)

Excessive heat and dryness earlier in the growing season likely will cause a decrease in the soybean yield in Delaware. (Delaware State News/K.I. White)

“The rain may have helped a bit, but it’s not enough to save them. They had already started to give up on maturing and were started to die off. During harvest there will be a lot of smaller beans and even empty pods which will eat into yield.”

Less encouraging than projected yields are the market conditions local farmers face. Farmers had already planned on corn prices remaining flat this year, but a nationwide uptick in soybean yields has also softened those prices.

“The national report says soybean yields are going to be up three to four bushels per acre, but here in Delaware and on the Delmarva peninsula, I think it’ll be a very mediocre yield,” Mr. Kee said. “The soybean yields in the Midwest are really what determines the price because there is so much volume there. Midwest farmers will probably fare better, but we’ll likely end up with a low yield at a low price.”

For some local farmers this issue will be compounded because they chose to plant more soybeans this year than corn to avoid those lower prices.

“Revenue will be decreased because of that, but the good news is that our farmers are pretty diversified with other income sources through poultry, dairy and vegetable crops,” Mr. Kee says. “On the whole though, the year will be tighter.”

Mr. Atkins said both the yield and commodity prices will shift local farmers like himself into a more conservative approach, especially where the corn crop is concerned.

“For most farmers, if their corn hasn’t already been contracted in advance, they will probably sell enough to get all their bills paid and store the rest, hoping for better prices sometime in the near future,” Mr. Atkins says.

Mr. Kee also believes that yields and commodity prices this year will cause local farmers to tighten their belts. However, he says many local farmers made valuable investments when corn and soybean prices were at their peak, which has made the generally more competitive despite current conditions.

“It’s true that this year many farmers will defer decisions on big capital investments like tractors or trucks, but will instead focus on preparing themselves for next year,” Mr. Kee said.

“But there are three main areas that farmers have been investing in that are really starting to pay off: corn hybrid varieties, more irrigation and precision agriculture equipment like GPS steering, yield monitoring and soil mapping.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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