Soybeans Next Casualty of 2012 Drought

By , Senior Meteorologist
July 30, 2012; 9:01 PM ET
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This images shows what a bumper crop of soybeans should look like during harbest time in the autumn. However, the number of pods set and sustained this season may be much lower than average in many areas of the Plains and Midwest.

Similar to which has already taken its toll on a large part of the United States corn crop, soybeans in some areas could be the next casualty of the 2012 drought.

Soybeans are second only to corn as the biggest agricultural product in the Midwest.

While episodes of rain will continue over some agricultural areas in the Upper Midwest, Ohio Valley and East in the coming weeks, part of primary soybean growing areas will continue to be slammed by heat and drought.

Soybeans are used for a variety of human food and animal feed. It is a source of protein for many countries throughout the world and in some cases is used as a substitute for meat and/or filler in processed foods.

Recent and upcoming soybean production shortfalls due to drought and heat in portions of the Plains and Midwest will lead to another blow to consumers in the form of higher grocery prices.

Rain/Temperature Forecast

Frequent 100-degree high temperatures and little or no rain through the middle of August could stress the soybean crop to near the point of failure in non-irrigated areas of Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, eastern Nebraska and the lower Mississippi Valley.

According to Expert Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson, "There will be some rain and slightly lower temperatures from spotty, passing thunderstorms in these areas. However, evaporation rates will exceed the amount of rain that falls."

While not as extensive as the massive weather system that covered much of the eastern two-thirds of the nation during late June and the first half of July, the high pressure area responsible is just as strong over the central and southern Plains and will remain so well into August.

Under blazing sunshine and high temperatures near 100 degrees this time of the year, evaporation rates are on the order of 0.25 to 0.33 of an inch of water per day.

The prospect for rainfall is looking better in portions of the Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley, compared to areas over the central Plains moving forward this season.

In areas from the eastern part of the Dakotas and southern Minnesota to northern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, somewhat more regular rainfall is on the way through mid-August.

"At least rainfall has a better chance at keeping up with evaporation rates in northern and eastern growing locations," Anderson said.

However, there will be localized tracts of farmland within this swath that miss out on sufficient rainfall even for soybeans.

According to Agricultural Meteorologist Dale Mohler, "We are running out of time for soybeans in parts of the Midwest."

Production Forecast

The period now through mid-August is when most soybeans across the U.S. finish their flowering stage and set pods.

About mid-August is the cut-off for soybeans to receive rainfall without having serious impact to production.

Mohler expects significant declines on the condition of the soybean crop and eventual production for this season in the U.S.

"Drought and/or heat will negatively affect roughly about 50 percent of primary soybean growing areas into late-summer and yields are likely to be between 10 and 15 percent lower than originally projected by the United States Department of Agriculture," Mohler stated.

"There are some hints on latest computer models of a surge of heat and dryness between August 4 and 8. If that happens, we could lose another five percent of the soybean crop," continued Mohler.

A smaller amount of soybeans, relative to the Plains and Midwest, are grown along part of the Atlantic Seaboard from southern Georgia to New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.

"Many of these areas have been getting some sort of rainfall in recent weeks and most of these areas should receive enough rain on a regular basis through mid-August for a decent crop," Mohler said.

Low Soybeans Inventories

Mid- to late-season dryness in the Plains and Midwest negatively affected soybean crops last year, resulting in lower U.S. yields.

According to Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews, "In addition, many soybean growing areas in South America, during the Northern Hemisphere's fall and winter of 2011-2012, were also hit by drought."

The combination of the two has reduced worldwide soybean reserves, tightening the supply according to Bloomberg.

Soybeans Basics

The beans are contained within pods, like peas.

Because of the slower-maturing nature of soybeans, when compared to corn, the crop has more time to gather moisture to produce and fill out pods.

Extreme heat and/or drought can cause the plant to go into survival mode. A severely stressed soybean plant will reduce the amount of pod-setting and/or will drop more pods than usual over time.

If the plant survives at all during severe drought, it produces a very small number of pods.


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