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Shattered field of beans

Article cover photo
An early snow blankets soybean plants in a field near Madrid early this week. Only 19 percent of the state's soybeans are harvested, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Iowa Crop Progress and Condition Report. That's 11 days behind average. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer


A wet fall contributed to the slowest soybean harvest on record, leaving farmers concerned about the quality and value of the crop still in fields.

Only 19 percent of Iowa’s soybeans are out, according to Monday’s U.S Department of Agriculture Iowa Crop Progress and Condition Report. Normally, more than half the crop is in bins or off to market by now. Harvest is 11 days behind normal.

Of the nearly 8 million acres of soybeans still to cut, farmers and agronomists say losses could be significant. Soggy plants with little time to dry the past month has led to sprouted seeds, split pods, shattering and mold issues statewide.

“August rains make soybeans, but excess September and October precipitation hurts,” said Brett McArtor, an Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) regional agronomist for southeast Iowa. “This will be one of the more challenging years from a quality standpoint.”

It was the third wettest September on record, according to Iowa climatology records. Nearly 8 inches of rain fell statewide, on average, or more than 4.5 inches above normal. More than 13 inches of precipitation was recorded in Waterloo, a record for the month.

Above-average rainfall continued into October, records show. Statewide precipitation averaged 4 inches above normal last week, which included snow.

With little rain in the forecast the next two weeks, farmers are planning to hit soybeans hard as field conditions allow. Many will harvest even if it means working in mud and getting stuck because plants continue to deteriorate exasperating yield losses.

“We had to drag the combine out of a mudhole yesterday (Oct. 15),” said Rolland Schnell, ISA District 5 director and former president.

Crop conditions deteriorate during harvest delays
Crop conditions deteriorate during harvest delays

Like many farmers, it wasn’t the first time getting stuck and it may not be the last.

“Soybeans are the highest priority,” Schnell said. “I’m finding mold (dark grey seeds) and pods splitting open dropping seeds on the ground, but seed sprouting is our biggest issue. Loads with 8 to 10 percent damage can be rejected at elevators.

“We have to go with soybean prices the way they are,” he continued. “We need to harvest as many as we can to get as close to breakeven as possible. There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now on quality and losses.”

Schnell said he’s contacted his crop insurance agent about quality and possible rejection concerns. He suggests other farmers do the same.

All harvested soybeans qualify for USDA Market Facilitation Payments (MFP), regardless if they are substantially docked in price when sold or rejected due to weather-related damage. The aid is compensation for market losses due to the administration’s trade disputes.

“Quality of the crop harvested is not taken into account. MFP payments will only be made on units harvested, regardless of whether they’re sold or stored,” according to a USDA statement.

About 23 percent of Missouri’s soybean crop, 20 percent of North Dakota’s and 11 percent of Iowa’s is rated in poor to very poor condition.

Jeff Jorgenson of Sidney has only combined 50 acres of soybeans. The ISA District 7 director hopes waterlogged fields are dry enough to continue harvesting beans by Friday. But he’s afraid of what he’ll find.

Repeated wetting and brief drying cycles in earlier maturing soybeans caused pods to split and drop seed. Jorgenson is expecting 10-15 percent yield losses, which could increase as the combine rolls through.

Four soybeans on the ground per square foot equals a one-bushel-per-acre loss, according to industry research.

“It’s been a rough run,” Jorgenson said. “I’m nervous about grain quality and losses. We used to be staring at a big crop.”

Iowa is projected to set records for soybean production and yields, according to the latest USDA Crop Production Report. Farmers are expected to harvest 606 million bushels, with an average yield of 61 bushels per acre.

But those numbers were based on conditions at the end of September. Monday’s Crop Progress and Condition Report rated 65 percent of the state’s soybeans in good to excellent condition compared to 74 percent at the beginning of the month.

ISA member Mike Gaul of Strawberry Point recently tweeted he found a soybean field with 100 percent germination of seeds still in the pod making them worthless.

Gaul also tweeted pictures of black, split soybean pods and seeds in the mud.

“The crop isn’t in the bin yet. USDA can reduce their yield estimate,” he tweeted.

Farmers in southeast Iowa have the most soybeans harvested at 30 percent, according to the crop progress and condition report. Northwest Iowa is not far behind at 26 percent.

South central Iowa farmers have the least soybeans out at 7 percent, reports show. The region is followed by northeast Iowa at 10 percent complete.

Seventeen percent of the state’s corn for grain is harvested, reports indicate. That’s four days ahead of last year but four days behind average. Moisture content of combined corn averaged 20 percent last week.

With dryer weather in the forecast, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said farmers will be putting in long hours to bring in the crop as quickly as possible.

“We again encourage everyone working on the farm or traveling on our rural roads to take the time needed to be safe during what can be a very busy and stressful time,” he said in statement.

Contact Matthew Wilde at

For media inquiries, please contact Katie Johnson, ISA Public Relations Manager at or Aaron Putze, ISA Communications Director at

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