Farmers are, by nature, not an overly optimistic lot. Even so, it's getting easier to spot some normally poker-faced farmers with the corners of their mouths turned upward into an almost celebratory grin as combines dump load after load of the 2002 Mid-South soybean crop onto waiting tractor trailers.

“This is probably going to be the best crop we've ever had in Mississippi. If the weather holds and we can get it out of the field, we'll break the state yield record this year,” says state soybean specialist Alan Blaine at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss.

The state's 10-year average is about 26 bushels per acre, with a record of 34 bushels per acre harvested statewide in 1992. Blaine expects this year's state yield average will exceed 30 bushels per acre, and says the number could be as high as 40 bushels per acre.

Mississippi isn't the only state hoping records will tumble in 2002. If early reports from the field are any indication, soybean growers in Louisiana are also primed to break state yield records in 2002.

Louisiana's state soybean yield average is 26 to 28 bushels per acre. “We'll need to top 30 bushels per acre to break our yield record, and if the yield trend continues, we expect to do that,” says Louisiana soybean specialist David Lanclos at the LSU AgCenter's Dean Lee research facility in Alexandria, La.

According to Lanclos, early-maturing soybean varieties are yielding anywhere from 35 bushels per acre to 75 bushels per acre. The historic state average is about 26-28 bushels per acre. “Right now, yields are very, very good. Our state yield average for 2002 could end up in the neighborhood of 35 to 45 bushels per acre,” he says.

Blaine says about 35 percent of his state's soybean acreage was harvested as of Sept. 10, with reports of some dryland soybeans cutting as well as comparable irrigated soybeans.

With yield reports ranging from the mid-20s to over 60 bushels per acre, Blaine attributes the high yield numbers to the early planting soybean production system and good varieties. “There's no doubt about it, we're seeing some of the best yields ever in Mississippi. However, the Group V soybeans still in the field could have a difficult time hanging in there with the early-planted group four soybeans.”

Endangering the potential for record high yields in the later maturing soybeans, he says, are late-season insects, disease, and the need for one last drink of water. “We're seeing worm pressure further north than we usually have it, and stinkbug numbers have been erratic with population numbers building to treatment levels in some areas of the state.”

In addition, Blaine says, some of the state's later planted Group V soybeans may be infected with cercospora disease. The disease, which causes the plants to have a stay green appearance, is convincing some growers there soybeans are not quite ready for harvest, when in fact they are.

In Louisiana, Lanclos estimates the state's producers had harvested about 20 percent of the state's 800,000-acre soybean crop as of Sept. 10. “Overall, subject to a hurricane or other natural disaster, the potential is there for an excellent soybean crop,” he says.

Early yield reports for group four soybeans have been exceptional, he says, with an average yield of between 40 and 45 bushels per acre. While yield reports are not yet in for the later-planted group five and six soybeans, Lanclos expects the high yield trend to continue in both irrigated and dryland soybeans.

Because of dry conditions this past spring, Louisiana's soybean farmers weren't able to plant as early as they normally would, which is extending the harvest season by three to four weeks.

These later-maturing varieties are still growing, and we're still finding stinkbugs and aerial blight in soybeans, and we need one good rain to finish the crop out. Farmers are also concerned that a lack of rainfall could reduce yields,” Lanclos says.

On the other hand, Kurt Guidry, an economist with the LSU AgCenter says farmers are seeing better prices now than they have over the past three to four years, and the increase is mostly attributed to weather problems in the Midwest, where drought conditions have reduced normal yields.

“It's shaping up to be a relatively profitable year for producers,” Guidry says. “Producers are encouraged with the yield potential in the fields and the better prices.”

Guidry says this year's yields are “closer to the trend line” after drought reduced yields the past few years, and prices appear stronger. “From a market standpoint, we have a better situation than the past three to four years. It's shaping up to be a good year,” he says.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com.