Unlike the bulk of Missouri, the Bootheel hasn't suffered terribly from drought. Irrigated acreage and rains brought by Hurricane Dennis have allowed mostly healthy, if unspectacular, crops.
“Some of our cotton is cutting out,” said Bobby Phipps, Missouri Extension cotton specialist. “Overall, it's surprisingly good. It won't break last year's record, but it's a solid, respectable crop. We're not seeing much fruit shed.”
In a “switch from the norm” the north end of the Bootheel has better cotton than the south end.
Insects and disease have been light. Seedling diseases were the lightest Phipps has seen in 10 years.
“It was very dry during the spring and there were no seedling diseases. Actually, low planting rates worked well this year because seedling mortality was so good. It took forever for the crop to come up — plants sprouted and then sat there for a couple of weeks before taking off. Normally, that would lead to seedling rot. This time, for some reason, that didn't happen.”
During the early part of the season, it was dry with an occasional shower. Then, in June, Dennis brought the Bootheel 4 inches of rain.
“That rain fell over two days extremely slowly,” said Phipps. “There was no run-off. It was so dry all that water just soaked in. That particular rain helped our cotton immensely.”
Bootheel rice — just beginning to head — also looks fine, said Bruce Beck, Missouri Extension rice specialist. “I expect yields to be fine. Of course, much of the Bootheel is irrigated, so that certainly plays a key role. Around here, it's been a steady year.”
Several producers have reported “some blast but that's only in a few fields. Sheath blight has been worse since we've had humid conditions move in. On the whole, though, perhaps because it's been a drier year, sheath blight has been less a problem than normal.”
Venture outside the Bootheel and crop conditions nosedive.
“The most severe drought area is from southwest Missouri into the central and northeast parts of the state,” said Bill Wiebold, Missouri Extension corn and soybean specialist. “That entire swath is in very bad shape. The area in the best shape water-wise is northwest Missouri — that area caught rains the rest of the state hasn't.”
As an example, Wiebold points to his base in centrally-located Columbia. “We had six-tenths of an inch of rain in July along with six days of 100-plus degree temperatures. That's brutal.”
The weather has severely impacted much of the Missouri corn crop. Currently, numerous producers are chopping their corn for silage rather than harvesting it for grain.
“They're trying to get something out of the crop. Corn yields in the worst areas will run from nothing to around 70 bushels. It's hard to predict what our statewide average yield will be. Last year, with glorious growing conditions, we had 161 bushels per acre. This year, we'll be lucky to average 110. That's a precipitous drop-off.”
Driving around the state, Wiebold said it's very common to see corn plants at normal height with no ears or a severe reduction in ear size.
With soybeans, yield set is critical a little later in the season.
“We're now into that period with most of the crop trying to set pods. It's absolutely critical that we get rain by mid-August. If not, our soybean yields will be hit as badly as our corn.”
Many of the soybeans have shed “a bunch” of flowers and young pods. The beans are shorter than normal with less leaf area and branching. On weaker soils, Wiebold is receiving reports of soybeans dying in the fields.
“Outside the Bootheel, we don't have many irrigated soybean acres,” said Wiebold. “Everything considered, I'm guessing Missouri will see a 30 percent decrease on soybean yield. Normally, we get a little less than 40 bushels. We're well under that already and, as dry conditions continue, yields will continue to diminish.”
The weather forecast calls for little relief.
Editor's note: On Aug. 24, the Missouri Rice Farm Field Day will be held at the Rice Research and Demonstration Farm near Glennonville, Mo. The field day will kick off at 8 a.m. and will run through lunch.