ANKENY, Iowa — Despite recent severe weather that brought torrential rains, tornadoes and hail, which damaged cropland in many counties, Iowa farmers planted an estimated record-breaking 10.1 million acres of soybeans – 500,000 more than projected in March, according to the June 30 USDA Acreage Report.
"This blows the old record out of the water and beats the trade estimates by more than 2.6 million acres," said Grant Kimberley, Iowa Soybean Assoc. (ISA) director of market development and recently-appointed executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board.
A sixth-generation farmer in Maxwell, Kimberley said soybeans have made a major comeback nationally as well, with a record 84.8 million acres planted, up 11 percent from last year. If realized, he said the 2014 crop will surpass the previous high mark by more than 7.4 million acres.
"Corn may be king in the U.S.," he noted, "but soybeans are knocking at the palace gates."
Moreover, Kimberley added increased corn rootworm pressure and a desire by growers to return to a more balanced crop rotation also played a factor in Iowa’s soybean acreage boost.
But recent storm damage in areas of the upper Midwest weren’t accounted for in the report, he cautioned, with harvested acres likely to be less than estimated in it. He added some reports estimate acreage losses statewide at 1 percent.
Currently, ISA members are assessing damage from punishing storms July 7-8, which has plagued the state for the weeks since. Ron Dreher, an Adair soybean grower, said on July 7 he endured the worst storm in 40 years of farming, with large hail, coupled with 6 inches of rain in 20 minutes and winds in excess of 80 mph decimating about two-thirds of 1,000 acres of soybeans and corn he raises with his son, Dan.
"It’s hard to look at the fields and see all the damage," he said. "It makes me sick to my stomach to think that in 20 minutes all of the hard work was lost."
Jim Fitkin, Cedar Falls farmer and ISA member, said the Cedar River has claimed some soybeans and corn, and "standing water is common after about 10 inches of rain in the last two weeks.
"But to the other extreme, I have a few bare spots in fields from the ground being too dry at planting," he said. "A challenging year so far."
Even looking beyond the recent storm damage, Brian Kemp, ISA president and Sibley farmer, said the boost in Iowa acres is a reflection of the profit potential of soybeans. He added one reason is record exports, especially to China, with farmers selling a record 1.58 billion bushels in 2013, valued at nearly $28 billion.
With only a few months left in the current marketing year, Kemp said exports are on pace to set a new record. During a visit to Des Moines, one of China’s largest soybean crushers recently agreed to buy $100 million in U.S. soybeans.
"Soybean producers are simply reacting to market demands," he said. "It appears that world demand for protein will continue to increase with a growing world population and improved diets. Soybeans are the preferred protein source."
Clarke McGrath, Iowa State University extension field agronomist in Harlan, thinks the boost in Iowa soybean acreage could have been "as we got closer to planting season and into season, guys concluded that the corn/bean pricing ratio probably ‘was what it was.’ So, if their marketing plans left them wiggle room to shift some of the corn-on-corn to soybeans, many of them did just that."
He added another factor for the increase in acres was the recent cold, wet spring. "As it became evident that planting season was going to be a long battle with wet and cold soils, the risk for corn-on-corn acres got higher," he said. "Cold and wet conditions can be pretty hard on corn-on-corn, especially in certain soil types, so some of those transitioned to beans.
"Also, as we got a little further into May," he added, "yield potentials and net revenues of corn-on-corn versus soybeans shifted a few more acres away from corn-on-corn."
According to the USDA Grains Stocks report, soybeans stored in all positions nationwide as of June 1 were at 405 million bushels, down 7 percent from the previous year. On-farm stocks totaled 109 million bushels, down 36 percent from a year ago.
Kimberley said the stocks number is a "bit of a head scratcher," given the fact China is still buying old-crop soybeans and the U.S. crush rate has remained strong. He added soybean prices fell on June 30 from the bearish report; however, the U.S. dollar is still relatively low, which makes the international price of soybeans attractive.
"That will eventually pump up demand and strengthen prices in the future," he said.