Wet Montgomery County field

A Montgomery County field shows signs of recent rainfall. Wet conditions have kept farmers out of many fields this year. 

After wet weather made for a long, challenging harvest in 2018, more rain made for a long and challenging planting season in 2019.

Missouri had its wettest May ever — the third wettest month the state has ever had — based on statewide average precipitation, trailing only September 1993 and June 1928.

Rusty Lee farms in Montgomery County and works as a University of Missouri Extension regional agronomist for several counties in east central Missouri. He says flooding has been a major issue along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and generally wet weather has delayed planting. Some farmers have switched intended corn acres to soybeans or are considering taking prevent plant on some acres.

“It’s been kind of the same as a lot of places,” he says. “We’ve had delayed planting, we’ve had rain every three days. We’ve got some saturated soils.”

Lee says there were a few planting windows for corn, but not many. Farmers made the most of the opportunities they’ve had.

“Since April, we’ve had one or two opportunities for correct planting conditions, and a lot of corn got planted then,” he says.

Still, many fields stayed too wet, and even farmers who were willing to plant in wetter-than-ideal conditions have struggled to get crops planted.

Speaking on June 12, Lee says producers had been making progress on soybeans before another rain hit.

“We received rain this morning that slowed things up,” he says. “Every producer was running till midnight last night to get some beans in.”

Lee says a recent run of somewhat drier weather had allowed for more soybean planting, adding that modern equipment can plant a lot of ground in a hurry.

“We’ve made a lot of progress the last week or two,” he says. “Our percentage planted has really changed.”

Farmers in his area were still planting corn up until the first week of June.

“There was corn planting up until last week,” Lee says. “Corn has a way to adapt.”

But by June 12 it was late enough the decision had shifted to planting soybeans or taking prevent plant.

“We’re still having some conversations about prevent plant,” Lee says. “Guys are kind of wringing their hands over that.”

On the positive side, there’s still time to grow some great beans, he says. After all, it’s still earlier than the regular planting time for double-crop soybeans after wheat, and sometimes those yield very well, Lee says.

“Some of the best beans guys have had are wheat stubble beans,” he says. “You never know. It’s not over till it’s over.”

Of course, the amount of rain going forward will be key. Lee says it depends on “when the spigot turns off” and rains become scarce.

“If this rain can keep up into July, we can have a bumper crop of corn and beans,” he says.

Flooding has presented problems, and could keep parts of the river bottoms from growing any crops at all, whether they were never planted or planted but then covered in water.

“We’ve got fields that were planted and then went under,” he says. “There’s some acreage that’s under water. Even if it didn’t top a levee, seep water can be a bear.”

The high water everywhere has also made pumping water difficult or impossible in places.

Pat Guinan, MU state climatologist, says Missouri averaged 10.82 inches of rain statewide in May, although some areas received much more. May is the Show-Me State’s wettest month on average, although this year was more than double the normal amount of rainfall, Guinan says.

“Seasonal temperatures accompanied exceptional and unprecedented wetness during May in Missouri,” he says.

Guinan says most of the state received at least 6 inches of rain in May, and parts of north, southwest and west central Missouri received much more than the average. The weather station at Milan, in Sullivan County, recorded 23.41 inches of rainfall in May, and the station at Carl Junction, in Jasper County, received 23.17 inches of rain during the month.

“The saturated conditions limited fieldwork activity and planting opportunities across the state,” Guinan says.

Lee is still hopeful as many soybean acres as possible will get planted, but he isn’t sure.

“You have to wonder, don’t you?” he says. “We’re still two or three weeks away from a normal wheat harvest time frame. I for sure wouldn’t give up on beans.”

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.