After last year’s rains, floods and early-season problems, Roger Gipson didn’t think “we’d face anything on that scale again. But I was wrong.
“Here it is late May and this year is turning out just as bad, if not worse.”
Just consider the corn crop, says the Pioneer area agronomist (First-time corn grower hits top yield), who works northeast Arkansas from Clay County to I-40. “Last year, we finished planting corn at the end of April. It began to dry up in May and that provided a better start for the crop.”
This season, there were two April planting windows. The first ran from April 1 through April 8.
“That corn — although there was a lot of cold weather and cold soil temperatures — was also hit with some rain. However, the rains went away long enough for the beds to firm back up. Growers wound up getting decent stands from that first planting.”
The second planting period came around April 23 through April 26. That was just before two weeks when it rained almost every day. Much of the corn planted during that time has been lost.
“Corn that emerged was scattered and really spotty. We’ve had to fail a lot of cornfields, especially in the northern half of the district I work. Craighead County north — maybe a bit into Poinsett County — had a lot of corn in that situation.”
Unfortunately, even the emerged early-April corn that was decent “took a beating” during the extended rains. Currently, there are a lot of field ends that, if not lost entirely, are severely stunted.
“Where they can, growers are spot-planting. Those situations are going to be a mess to deal with.”
The vast majority of replant decisions have been “no-brainers,” says Gipson. “There are simply too many big holes and 8-foot skips. That’s no good at all for corn. The majority of corn that I’ve looked at and suggested replanting has been so bad you immediately walk out and say, ‘Yeah, this needs a replant.’”
It’s extremely difficult to spot-plant corn, warns the agronomist. “We can successfully spot-plant a bunch of crops. But corn isn’t one of them and I typically don’t advise taking that route.
“To spot-plant corn takes very distinct areas, clear demarcations — maybe the top half has good corn and the bottom half is a lost cause. Planting in holes and such creates a management nightmare.”
Many cornfields that didn’t have atrazine down have been switched to soybeans. “I looked at a couple of fields just this morning where the grower was about to plant soybeans. There is a lot of extremely yellow corn. That’s due to a combination of too much water and nitrogen loss. There is a lot of sulfur deficiency on lighter, sandier soils. Some zinc deficiency symptoms are also showing up.”
As for herbicides, “most of the fields I’ve seen are still okay. There’s some corn that probably can’t have atrazine. But the grower can always come back with a Callisto/Roundup application. Some growers are going underneath with hoods.
“I’m going to be up front: the corn crop has a long way to go. I think the crop still has potential but a lot has been taken away.”
Soybeans in northeast Arkansas have done much better than corn. During the late-April planting period “a lot of beans were planted in Crittenden and St. Francis counties. The next week, while the northern half of my district was being deluged, the southern area stayed pretty dry. That allowed the soybeans to emerge well.”
Just now, growers in the north half of the district are planting soybeans “hard and heavy. I feel a lot better about our soybeans than I do corn.”
Gipson is also seeing rice fields being replanted. Many flood-prone areas have been underwater since just after rice was planted.
While it’s getting late to plant rice, “there are growers holding contracts. They’ll push the rice as hard as they can.”
It’s dried down enough now that growers in much of Gipson’s work area are able to use ground rigs. But initially, “some growers were flying on urea, ammonium sulfate or a combination of both. They were just trying to help the corn out a little bit.”
With all the rains, a significant amount of the preplant nitrogen has been lost. “That puts us in a shaky spot — just like last year.”
Gipson advises growers to “strongly consider” bumping up their total nitrogen rate 30 or 40 units.