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Heavy rains sprout concern, calendar-watching among farmers

This time of year, a calendar and the Weather Channel seldom get far from soybean grower Neal Bredehoeft's view.
/ Source: The Associated Press

This time of year, a calendar and the Weather Channel seldom get far from soybean grower Neal Bredehoeft's view.

The west-central Missouri farmer has learned over the decades that crop-planting can be a race against the clock. Getting seeds in the soil by the first week of June tend to produce better yields, conventional wisdom goes.

That's if weather cooperates. And lately, it hasn't.

For nearly two weeks, only about half of the Bredehoeft family's roughly 1,000 acres near Alma, have been planted, with the rest of the work delayed by a run of drenching rains.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

"It's been raining every few days, and we're behind schedule a little bit," said 51-year-old Bredehoeft, an American Soybean Association vice president. "I'd say probably over the last couple of weeks we've gotten five, six inches _ probably closer to eight inches (of rain). It's put us out of the field.

"You do everything you can that you have control over _ put the crop in, fertilize it right and control the weeds. But it's up to the Lord to give us the moisture as he sees fit."

In much of Missouri _ and plenty of other places in the Midwest _ there's been no shortage of that.

Bredehoeft's farm sits between Kansas City and Columbia, where the National Weather Service says 4.88 inches of rain have fallen this month, roughly three-quarters of an inch above normal.

Around St. Louis, May's rainfall has totaled 6.33 inches, 2.87 inches above normal.

Anyone wanting to see the glass as half full should consider this: the record rainfall for May in Columbia was 13.3 inches in 1943, while St. Louis' wettest May was 12.92 inches, nine years ago.

For Bredehoeft, the near-term forecast doesn't look too bright, with chances of rain possible nearly every day into early next week.

"It doesn't look like it's gonna be like the big-time two- or three-inch rainers we've had the last couple or three days," said Jon Carney, a meteorologist for the weather service in St. Louis. The rains, he suspects, should be "just typical late-spring, early-summer" ones.

Said Bredehoeft: "It's looking like we're going to have a late planting season, and you're always looking at a lesser yield when that happens."

Farmers elsewhere are feeling the squeeze, too.

In Michigan's Saginaw County, closing out one of its wettest Mays, Dave Helmreich expects his 2,700 soggy acres to lose $135,000 to $270,000 this year _ the same amount he'd make in a good year.

"The cream is off the bucket now as far as profits are concerned," Helmreich, 49, told The Saginaw News. "Farmers are going to take a big hit this year."

The Missouri Farm Bureau's Kelly Smith said other Missouri-grown crops appear to be faring well despite the rains.

Corn _ generally planted in early April, sometimes even in late February or March _ "in most cases is up and doing very well," Smith said. "All of this moisture is good with corn, getting it off to good growth."

Typically harvested beginning in mid-June, wheat stalks now nearly mature need a break from rains to dry and stave off bacterial diseases, Smith said. Though hail and harsh winds have been part of some recent storms, the wheat largely still stands tall.

"Right now, we'd be most concerned with soybeans if they're not currently planted," said Smith, the bureau's marketing and commodities chief.

When it comes to planting, he said, "earlier is better in many people's minds."

Even when crops already are planted, soggy weather can kill the young, vulnerable seed already in the soil and subject the crops to root rot, disease, insects and plant drowning.

Farmers prefer showers, not what many of them call toad stranglers.

In an unsigned posting Wednesday on an agweb.com forum, a farmer from northwest Missouri's Nodaway County lamented "eight plus inches of rain in May _ so much for the perfect growing season."

"Heavy dirt on river bottoms saturated ... beans don't like to have their feet in water," the farmer continued. "Dry, warm days and nights would improve things in a week's time."

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On the Net:

American Soybean Association, http:www/oilseeds.org/asa

National Wheat Growers Association, http://www.wheatworld.org

National Corn Growers Association, http://www.ncga.com