While Hurricane Rita spared Arkansas the massive rains some forecasts predicted, farmers will still be out of the field for a few days.
Immediately after Rita left the state, Chris Tingle began assessing what had been left in her wake. So far, it isn't too bad for the soybean crop.
“From what I've seen, the storm wasn't devastating,” said the Arkansas Extension soybean specialist Sept. 26. “Fields I normally see flooded after a couple of inches of rain aren't even in standing water this morning. That shows how dry we were. The forecast looks favorable too. Optimistically, maybe we can get back in the field by the end of the week.”
Much of the state received 4 to 6 inches of rain.
“White County got close to four inches. Around Stuttgart, they got around 5.5 inches. We're going to be checking what the winds and timing of the winds did.”
The day before Rita hit, Tingle was traveling through northeast Arkansas. Every combine “capable of cranking up” was in the field.
“There wasn't much dew out this morning, so they're blowing and going trying to beat the storm. Machines are still working on rice. A lot of the soybeans are ready to be cut. From the looks of things, though, rice is the bigger concern. It will lie down and lodge so much easier.”
Of the beans being cut, producers are seeing some serious quality problems. That's a result of recent hot, dry weather.
“From June through the first part of August, there wasn't nearly enough rainfall. If you look at the plants' water demands coupled with evaporation rates, the wells had to be left running. Producers couldn't catch up to the water demands.”
Now, at harvest, producers are paying the price. Tingle said he's receiving an “enormous number” of calls from growers and elevators about shriveled seed and overall poor quality.
“I just visited a Poinsett County grower. He cut a 68-acre field of early-planted (late April) Group 4 beans. The grower watched the field closely all year. He got a good stand under irrigated conditions.
“Based on history, we knew he'd take a yield hit. We were hoping for about 45 bushels per acre and wound up averaging around 38 bushels. That's pretty close to what we're hearing across the state: yields are down 8 to 10 bushels off what was expected.”
Tingle suspected a bit less than 2 million acres of soybeans remain in the field. “By the time the storm hits we might have 40 percent of the whole crop out.”
With Rita bearing down, Tingle was looking at several scenarios.
“If we get 6 or 8 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, it could lead to some serious problems. But I don't think it'll impact the yield of our crop too badly.
“We've got a late crop anyway. There are 250,000 acres in the state that are late and need a rain — they're that late and well within seed fill. A rain could actually help the late crop.
“If the rain turns out to be of the slow, soaking variety it'll keep us out of the field for a week or better. But we don't want to get into the scenario we ran into last year where, during harvest, we got into a cycle of rains and couldn't get the crop out, leading to a quality drop.”
Regardless, the big concern is seed-bean production. A majority of the state's seed-bean production is still in the field.
“So if it rains a while, gets cool and those beans weather, it isn't a positive. Our germination and emergence will be impacted for next year.”
What about storage and river traffic?
“Growers are saying they've been charged up to 50 cents per bushel for storage. That's cutting into the profit margin for this crop — especially when we're staring at an 8- to 10-bushel decrease on average.
“I've heard storage shortages have led some folks to dump grain in big piles and cover it with tarps until bin space becomes available. On-farm storage is certainly paying for itself this year.”