Shriveled, colored soybeans creating harvest woes

Small, green soybeans that failed to fill out fat and yellow in drought-stricken Kansas are creating problems for area grain elevators that accept them, and adding financial woes for farmers.

Marion County farmers expanded the number of acres planted to soybeans with their new ability to make decisions under the Freedom to Farm Act. But most farmers were hit with new challenges while trying to harvest the diminutive beans.

When Larry Olsen, who farms west of Marion, adjusted his combine for the bean harvest this fall, the machine wouldn’t thrash out the shrunken rubbery pods or sort out the small grains.

“I had to put the milo sprocket on the combine so it would thrash them out,” Olsen said.

“It takes a lot of beans to make a bushel,” he added. “I would have had double the yield if they were a normal size. There was enough moisture early that they grew tall enough, they set beans, but they didn’t fill out.”

Olsen ended up with a yield of 14 bushels to the acre.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

When farmers like Olsen brought the small beans to elevators, managers who wanted to do right by their regular customers had to try to find out what to do with soybeans that don’t fit the market.

David Lancaster, manager of Cooperative Grain & Supply at Marion, noted that radio and television analysts have been discussing whether the drought-damaged seeds might yet turn closer to a normal yellow.

“But if they’re dry now, they’re not going to turn at all,” he said.

“They’ve been coming in at 7, 8 and 9 percent moisture, so they’re really dry. We get a lot of people in that the pods didn’t shell out right for them-a lot of trash in the beans-so the dockage can be severed before they’re even graded. There’s a few decent bean fields where they had moisture, but there were a lot of acres of pretty tough, pretty sorry beans.”

Lancaster, Stan Utting, manager of Agri Producers, Inc., at Tampa, and Lyman Adams, CG&S general manager in Hillsboro, all said their only choice in grading beans is to send them to the Kansas Grain Inspection Service to let them grade them.

“We don’t know how to grade them,” Utting said. “They’re a big disappointment to everyone. We don’t want to speculate on them, and we’re not sure what will be done with them. But we’re taking them, buying them at a discount. They’re getting graded at 40 to 50 percent damage on color because the green inside and out stays green or dark and colors the oil extracted.”

Lancaster said farmers faced up to $1.20-per-bushel dockage on soybeans just on initial delivery to the elevator.

Adams noted that a farmer might have expected an average yield of 30 bushels to the acre, and at the market price of $4.44, that generates an income of over $133 per acre. With yields that came in anywhere from five to 20 bushels per acre, income probably was cut at least in half just in yields.

“Add another $5 per acre loss in discounts, and it gets more severe,” Adams said. “Where the price is now, farmers couldn’t afford to raise just an average crop.”

Lancaster said there is a plan to send the soybeans to Wichita to be blended with “normal” beans to dilute them before extracting oil, and make soybean meal for animal feed. He expects the feed value to be normal even though the oil is discolored.

Lancaster said, “A lot of elevators didn’t buy the beans because they didn’t want to own something they couldn’t sell.”

Adams agreed that a use will be found for the small green soybeans even though Kansas inspectors will lower their grade. He said the inspectors actually will cut beans in half to make experimental judgments on how much the green color will darken and lower the quality of the oil extracted from them.

“Basically, the problem area is the entire state of Kansas except where beans were irrigated or they got rain at the right time,” Adams said.

“We didn’t have this problem in the last drought in the 1980s because we didn’t have so many beans. Since the Freedom to Farm Act and the development of Round Up beans, farmers are just planting a lot more beans in our area.”

Round Up soybeans are genetically engineered so herbicide will kill weeds without injuring the bean plant.

Adams said less fuss will be made about another major fall crop, milo, because soybeans and milo react differently to drought stress.

“The soybean plant puts its energy into keeping the plant alive, so when it’s short on moisture it cuts off the seed and it shrivels,” Adams said.

“But in milo, everything is sent to the head to develop the grain, and you’ll see that fill out while the stock whithers.”

The elevator managers expect the economic effect of the soybean loss to be big locally even though businesses and individuals may not always be aware of it.

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