Drought has laid Old Man River low, strangling Mississippi barge traffic and raising the potential for storage problems for Arkansas grain whose harvest has begun early.

“The main issue over here is the low river,” said Robert Goodson, an Extension agent for both Phillips and Lee counties. “Barges are only being loaded 70 to 75 percent.

“As long as the Mississippi River stays low, storage may be an issue,” he said Tuesday(August 14). In some cases where the storage bins are filled because outgoing grain is slowed, elevators are having to pile the grain on the ground.

“There’s a potential that some 1 to 1.2 million bushels will be stored on the ground” if the slow outflow of grain continues, Goodson said.

Irrigated bounty

Compared to the rain-dependent grain-growing states in the Midwest, Arkansas’ crops have fared well, thanks to the state’s ability to irrigate from rivers and underground water sources.

With Arkansas’ corn acreage having increased 18 percent, or 100,000 acres, between 2011-12, plus higher yields, “it’s taxing the storage capacity of the elevators,” said Scott Stiles, Extension economist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. The National Agricultural Statistics Service was expecting corn yields this year to be up 13 percent, or 18 bushels an acre, over last year.

“Grain sorghum harvest is going strong as well and also competing for storage space,” said Stiles. “Sorghum acreage increased this year too; and the yields are good. NASS pegged the state sorghum yield to be up 8 bushels, or 11 percent.”

More than a third of Arkansas’ corn crop has been harvested, and a fifth of the sorghum, but the big surprise this week is the early start to the rice and soybean harvest, according to the Arkansas Crop Progress and Condition report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The report, issued Monday (August 13), indicated 2 percent of rice and 1 percent of soybean acres had been harvested, compared to five-year average of zero.

Some of those harvested soybeans are in Phillips County. “Yields are better than expected with some dryland fields yielding 45 bushels per acre,” Goodson said. “Harvest on irrigated fields has been limited, but I know one field that has been yielding in the high 70s.”