Two inches of rain over the next two weeks is all that the soybean crop needs to ensure that millions of tiny pink flowers now budding at a near-record pace mature into the small green pods that will help feed the world.
As scattered rain in the north and east of the farm belt this week brought the first significant relief to this summer's drought, the worst in 56 years, agronomists said even a small amount of moisture will help the soybean crop avoid the fate facing corn, which has been decimated by the unrelenting heat.
Not only do soybean plants reach their most critical stage of development -- called pod-setting -- about a month later than corn's reproductive pollination phase, they also can withstand drought a little better because they have a much smaller biomass than corn, and can idle their metabolic activity at night.
"High night-time temperatures make corn plants maintain themselves, which means they are using some of their sugar to maintain cellular function. Soybeans do not have this problem. They are just sitting there waiting to grow," said agronomist Michael Cordonnier of Soybean and Corn Advisor in Chicago.
Corn needs five times as much water as soybeans over the course of its life, and about 1/3 of an inch of rain a day -- more than two inches a week during pollination, experts say.
While most analysts agree it is too late for the rains to salvage much of the corn crop, which analysts reckon will be at least 22 percent smaller than initially estimated this spring, there is hope for the world's largest soybean crop -- potentially tempering the run-up in food prices. Analysts have so far reduced their yield forecasts by only 5 percent....MORE