soybeans file photo

In this July 30, 2012 file photo, Harry G. Massey of Weldon, Ill., walks a soybean field looking for weeds near Weldon, Ill.

Associated Press archives

Healthy soybeans were supposed to save the agricultural sector this summer as Wisconsin farmers tried to salvage a withering corn crop during a nasty drought. But the soybeans have been ravaged by a drought-driven pest and are expected to fare even worse than corn, experts say.

State soybean production has been forecast to drop 18 percent to 60.5 million bushels, according to a report from the Wisconsin office of the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS).

The report also is predicting a yield of 36 bushels per acre, a 21.7 percent drop from last year.

State corn production is expected to drop 12 percent to 455 million bushels. The report is estimating a yield of 132 bushels an acre, a drop of 15.3 percent.

"There was a lot of hope pinned on (soybeans). Nobody expected them to be great, but they were hoping they'd be pretty good," said Gene Schriefer, agriculture agent for the Iowa County UW-Extension. "We certainly aren't going to have a banner year. They could look better."

Joe Speich, an agronomist for Landmark Cooperative Services, said soybeans have been damaged by the drought and an infestation of pesky two-spot spider mites. The miniscule web-spinning arthropods love to feast on soybeans in dry conditions, and insecticides are sometimes ineffective.

"It was a nasty one-two punch," Speich said. "We had a phenomenal number of spider mites. There were some fields that were decimated."

Agronomists have said the average corn yield on Madison-area farms will be much lower than the state forecast while Schriefer expects the soybean yield in the area to be close to the state forecast.

"We get about 55 (bushels an acre) in the county in a normal year," Schriefer said of soybean yields. "If we get 36 to 40, that would be less than normal but not awful. ... So they won't be as bad as corn (in this area) but not as good as they hoped."

Meantime, the dry alfalfa yield in Wisconsin is expected to drop 17.9 percent to 2.3 tons per acre, the NASS report said. Production is expected to reach 2.3 million tons, a drop of 28 percent from last year in part because 150,000 fewer acres are being harvested.

The oats yield is expected to be 56 bushels per acre, a drop of 9.7 percent. State production is forecast for 6,720 million bushels, a drop of 5.6 percent.

Winter wheat brought the most positive news as its yield is estimated to rise 10.8 percent to 72 bushels per acre. However, the production forecast is for 18 million bushels, a drop of 17.3 percent, because 85,000 fewer acres are being harvested this year.

Most of those acres were planted this spring with corn and soybeans by farmers who wanted to take advantage of higher prices for those two commodoties. The NASS report estimates that 130,000 more acres of corn, 80,000 more acres of soybeans and 5,000 more acres of oats were planted in the state this year.

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