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American Farmer: Soybean Harvest

Here's a "Six Degrees of Separation" question for you. How are you connected to a farmer in a small town in Arkansas? Well, if he or she is growing soybeans, there are several ways that farmer touches your life every day.

Although you may be most familiar with soybean food products, these miracle beans have many more applications. Adhesives, building materials, carpet cleaning products, crayons, car seats, shampoo and newspapers with soy-based ink are just a few of the products that are made from soybeans.

Farmers in my home state of Arkansas have just wrapped up the harvest and it's predicted to be a record year in spite of the severe drought. Other top soybean producing states such as Iowa, Indiana and Illinois were hit harder by this year's dry weather because farmers in these states are less likely to irrigate their fields. Drought in those mid-western states simply doesn't happen often enough to justify the cost of installing irrigation systems, but Arkansas summers are typically dry so many of our farmers have installed irrigation systems for soybeans as well as other crops in rotation.

The harvest kicked off a little early this year, but then so did spring. The combines were out in September and nearly all the beans were in by early November. It is estimated that Arkansas soybean farmers will average 39 bushels per acre up from the 35 bushel per acre average of the past decade. This is a huge leap from the 28 bushels per acre that was considered a good harvest in the 1980s. Our state could potentially produce 125 million bushels this year, resulting in approximately 1.7 billion dollars of revenue.

Talk Like a Farmer

Forward Booking - Forward booking prices is when a farmer locks in a certain price per bushel on the current year's harvest. He also commits to produce a certain number of bushels. At harvest time the elevator will pay that price per bushel whether the actual price is higher or lower. If the farmer does not produce the promised number of bushels, he has to pay the elevator for the undelivered bushels. Farmers rarely, if ever, commit their whole crop and they will forward book in increments over the course of late winter and spring.

Lodging When plants lean over (especially after a heavy rain and wind) therefore are difficult to harvest.

Shattering Soybeans left in the field too long may begin to burst open. The pods get too dry. You can hear the pods popping open with bean seed popping out.

Reel Loss Caused when pods hit the combine reel and the beans pop out.