Lanny Ashlock has his fingers crossed. So far, the Arkansas soybean crop looks better than it has in years, says the soybean agronomist with the Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas.

"Maybe I’m too optimistic, but it seems to me that we’re in the best situation at this time of year with our soybean crop than we’ve been in several years. The crop is really beginning to grow well, especially the early planted, early maturing Group IV varieties. We’ve got good soil moisture everywhere, and the temperatures are moderate."

Ashlock said farmers have planted about two million acres of soybeans. The Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service figures farmers will plant 3.25 million acres, down from 3.35 million last year.

Recent rains have been plentiful for much of the state. "I think that’s going to carry our early-planted beans -- planted the last week of April and the first two weeks of May -- up to size.

"I feel as if we’re in a position to get good growth. Timely rains will keep the momentum going."

While the potential is there for an excellent crop, Ashlock noted that the weather during an eight-week period in late July through early September will make or break the crop. Timely rains are critical during this period.

The abundant soil moisture should help farmers planning to double crop. Nearly a third of soybean acreage, about 1 million acres, is typically planted after the wheat harvest.

While the Arkansas crop is generally in good shape, it’s not without problems. Chad Norton, Extension staff chair in Lincoln County, is worried about insects.

"We’ve had some insect activity in soybeans," he said. Leaf-munching grasshoppers have been widespread this year. He said its believed that the years of drought have caused the flare-up.

Farmers have sprayed 1,000 to 1,500 acres of soybeans. The grasshopper problem seems to be worse in fields next to woods, according to Norton.

To add to the problem, Norton said stinkbugs are showing up in alarming numbers. He found large numbers of stinkbugs sharing a field with grasshoppers. "This is early in the year to find as many stinkbugs as we found. Generally, when we find them in once place, they tend to be everywhere."

Stinkbugs are believed to transmit greenbean syndrome, which causes beans to not dry out for fall harvest. Beans tend to sprout in the pods, making them valueless. "You can lose an entire field to it."

Norton said every crop in the county has had its problem with insects this year. "We had hoped that the harder, colder winter would have helped us with the insects we’re seeing."

Meanwhile, Ashlock said, in some areas of the state soybean cyst nematode has resurfaced as a concern. He said farmers need to plant varieties that have cyst protection if they have a confirmed diagnosis of cyst nematodes. "We’ve seen some fields that have been hammered hard," he added.

Another concern that Ashlock has is that farmers who are going to double crop should plant soybeans behind wheat as quickly as possible because yield potential begins declining after mid-June. He said the rains and higher humidity have slowed wheat harvest, which in turn has slowed down soybean planting.

Farmers should use seed treated with fungicide to combat seedling diseases if they are planning to double crop, use conservation tillage practices and know that a field has a history of seedling diseases, Ashlock said.

Lamar James is an Extension Communications Specialist, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.