The news isn't good for many of the Delta's soybean growers. Reports from the field are that some growers are disking up hundreds of acres of soybeans while others are traveling from place to place in search of an elevator that will accept their truckloads of deteriorating or high-moisture beans.

Alan Blaine, Extension soybean specialist at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., says, “We haven't ever seen damage this bad. There are some fields with a tremendous amount of molded or rotted soybeans that aren't worth harvesting.”

The crop damage, he says, varies slightly by planting date and variety, but is generally worse south of Highway 6, which runs through Clarksdale, Miss.

At least 50 percent of the state's 2001 crop was exposed to disease or weather-related problems. When all is said and done, he says, 30 to 35 percent of the state's crop will likely be classified as in poor condition and will be discounted anywhere from 10 to 50 percent, or will be unharvestable.

Blaine says, “The main thing killing us right now is the moisture level of the soybeans ready to be harvested due to an abundance of extra greenery in the fields combined with the high humidity levels. A lot of this soybean crop is coming in with high moisture levels and the elevators are not accepting delivery.”

Jack Bonner, elevator manager for Bunge North America, Inc. in Greenville, Miss., says, “To date, I haven't refused a truck of soybeans, but I probably will in the near future. Right now, we are only accepting soybeans with a maximum of 13 percent moisture content and a maximum of 5 percent damaged grain.”

In a Sept. 19 letter to its customers, Bunge says it is hopeful that these restrictions can be reduced in the future. However, that decision will largely depend on the quality of the later-maturing varieties.

“We didn't see much of this coming before harvest got here. What started out as the best soybean crop in the past five years has now become one of the worst due to damage caused by the excessive late-season rains,” says Tom Pay, district manager for Bunge's operations in Louisiana and Mississippi.

“The essence is that the soybeans affected by the rains have quite a bit of damage in them, and the marketplace can't handle these damaged soybeans until there are better-quality soybeans available from either the Mid-South or the Midwest to mix them with,” Pay says.

However, he believes the market is hopeful that some of the later varieties which weren't affected as much by the rains will be of better quality, providing elevators and other grains handlers with product to blend with the damaged soybeans. “Right now, the market has said that it's got all the damaged soybeans it wants and it doesn't want any more. Further complicating things is the fact that storage for soybeans is currently at a premium.”

Bonner says Bunge is asking its customers to wait to harvest until their moisture level decreases to below 13 percent.” He admits, though, that delaying harvest won't help those growers with damaged soybeans.

“A lot of the diseased or weather-damaged soybeans have mold on them, and mold coupled with green foreign material is the perfect environment for soybeans to deteriorate very quickly in a short amount of time,” Pay says. “If you've got mold damage in a field and you mix those damaged soybeans with any beans that don't have mold damage, the probability is that the good beans will be looking like the old beans before too long.”

Because damaged soybeans with mold, green foreign material, warm grain temperatures and high moisture levels undergo severe heating and quality losses in as few as seven to 10 days, Bunge has suspended all storage options and will only be a buyer of soybeans until further notice, Pay says.

“We're at a point where we've got to see some time pass to determine the quality of the later-maturing beans and to awaiting the impending arrival of what we hope will be better-quality Midwestern soybeans,” he says. “Unfortunately, if you are a farmer you are subject to insect problems and the whims of Mother Nature in the meantime.”

At least one other major player in the Mid-South grain-handling business has made the decision to no longer accept soybeans for storage.

Jimmy Sanders, Inc., based in Cleveland, Miss., says that due to space limitations and the amount of damaged soybeans the company has already received, all soybeans delivered after Sept. 20 must be sold within five days of the ticket date.

The company says it is also reducing its tolerance for acceptable soybeans to those containing less than 13 percent moisture and less than 5 percent damage.

In a Sept. 20 letter to its customers, Jimmy Sanders, Inc., says, “We have made a diligent effort to work with you in looking for a market for these damaged soybeans. However, due to the significant percentage of damaged soybeans this situation has become increasingly difficult. If market changes allow us to accept soybeans above this threshold we will notify you of the change.”

Another factor in the equation, Pay says, is the slowed export soybean business due to the unfortunate events that took place Sept. 11 in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. “The problems we've had in this country recently have caused some uncertainty and put a damper on the export market right now,” he says.

“We are in the business to buy grain and this is obviously not good news for us, but we've got to buy something we can sell. At the moment, we're just trying to buy some time. And, as time passes, we expect that the market place will become more willing to accept some of this material,” Pay says.

Blaine agrees that time may solve some of growers' problems. “Once the elevators get the corn out of the way and get some higher-quality beans delivered, they will probably up the damage level and start taking some more soybeans.”

In the meantime, Blaine encourages soybean producers to find somewhere to store the portion of their crop worth harvesting. Otherwise, he says, the soybeans left remaining in the field with continue to weather and decrease in quality.

Pay estimates that at least 12 million to 14 million bushels of damaged soybeans will find their way into the market before the 2001 harvest concludes.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com