One in eight people worldwide do not get enough food daily. In Missouri, 16 percent of people are food insecure. Northern Missouri, however, is a hotbed for agricultural activity, producing the highest amount of goods by value in the state. This series explores agricultural production in Northeast Missouri and its relation to the food chain both locally and beyond the state’s borders. Part five in a ten-part monthly series on agricultural production in Northeast Missouri.
From weeks of drought to buckets of rain, farmers and ranchers in northeast Missouri have been adapting to unpredictable conditions — including large numbers of Japanese beetles that have recently been sighted.
Farmers in northeast Missouri and across the rest of the state have been working hard to grow crops and take care of their livestock — many farmers have had to replant their crops following periods of drought and heavy rainfall. Due to a mild winter that didn’t kill as many insects as usual, Japanese beetles have emerged in local fields, threatening crops like corn and soybeans. The weather during the next 30 to 45 days — the most crucial period of the growing season, said Marion County Farm Bureau President Joe Kendrick — will have a large impact on crop yields.
Kendrick, who is also a local farmer, said that he finished replanting crops in the past two or three weeks. So far, Kendrick said the plants are not perfect, but the stands are doing well. The challenges one each farm are wide-ranging, because earlier periods of heavy rain are followed by dry, hot days that are sapping the moisture from the soil. And he noted that the weather has been variable across the nation, including a surplus of rain in Iowa and dry conditions in the Dakotas. He said current crop projections call for more corn than in 2016, but, the previous projections for a record soybean crop have dropped considerably.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains a plant hardiness zone map, which helps farmers determine which crops are best for regions across the nation. Northeast Missouri is in the second of five zones, arranged using annual extreme minimum temperatures measured between 1976 and 2005. The second region shows minimum averages between five degrees below and ten degrees below zero; the first zone ranges from ten degrees below and fifteen degrees below zero, and the fifth zone ranges from five degrees to ten degrees.
A shiny green pest emerges
And now that corn is developing tassels and tiny hairlike “silks” that send pollen down to each kernel of corn, a new pest is emerging in fields across the area — the Japanese beetle.
Kendrick said that the mild winter didn’t kill off as many insects as in years past with a hard winter freeze, bringing the numbers up for the invasive pest. As a result, farmers throughout the area have been scouting their fields for signs of the insect and using cropdusters to apply pesticides to keep the beetle at bay.
Marion County Farm Bureau Vice President and local farmer Ralph Griesbaum said the pest likes to eat the end of the silks, preventing the kernels from forming on the cob. Griesbaum pointed to one of the iridescent green insects perched on a soybean crop, pointing out holes where the insect had eaten through the leaves.
According to the USDA Japanese Beetle Distribution map, Missouri is classified as “generally infested,” along with every state east of the Mississippi River except for Florida, which has none of the insect, and Mississippi, which is deemed “partially infested.” On Missouri’s western border, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma are also classified as partially infested. The USDA reported the insect was first discovered in 1916 near Riverton, N.J., and subsequently spread west. In addition to damaging agricultural crops, the USDA said the beetle will feed on lawns, golf courses and pastures.
Farmers’ methods for adapting to weather extremes
Kendrick said that some farmers who use no-till farming have a different time frame to deal with than farmers who work the land. The farmers who don’t till the land have to wait for the ground to get to the right texture, so the planter’s disc can cut a slot for the seed to go into. Kendrick said seed-to-soil contact is crucial for the seed to germinate — and wet soil won’t let the groove for the seed to close adequately. If three or four dry days follow, that groove will open further and reduce the crucial seed-to-soil contact.
Kendrick said that cereal rye is an effective cover crop that absorbs moisture from the soil, offering a way for farmers to plant a bit sooner after heavy rain. He said there are positive and negative aspects of the plant, but local farmers have found improvements during trial periods.
Griesbaum said he runs cooling misters and fans to keep the hogs cool in their building, and the cattle outside have plentiful shade and timber. He said he regularly checks the water supply for each pen and each farm. He said he checked on the inside animals every couple hours, and an automatic alarm alerts Griesbaum’s cell phone if the temperature in the building gets too hot.
Griesbaum and Kendrick join fellow farmers in looking forward to receiving some timely rain that their crops need as they enter the most important next few weeks of the season.
“It’s just depending on the kind of year the good Lord decides to give us,” Kendrick said.
Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org