As frequent rains have continued into October, so have fears that Mid-South crops — left in wet fields with frustrated growers unable to harvest — are suffering yield losses.
The soybean situation in Arkansas hasn’t changed much since the first of October.
“Back then, we were at about 19 percent harvested, and there are a lot of reports of mold,” says Jeremy Ross, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist. “Not much has changed although I’ve gotten calls from farmers complaining about beans beginning to get soggy and mushy.”
Speaking from Alexandria, La., on Oct. 16, David Lanclos says, “the sun is finally shining and a north wind is blowing 25 miles per hour. After what we’ve had, this is good news.”
Lanclos, the Syngenta tech service representative for the south Delta (Mississippi and Louisiana), says harvested soybeans were “very good — we were running anywhere between 40 and 90 bushels on most fields. I know those numbers are hard to believe, but that made a lot of folks optimistic.
“I think a lot of people did really well in dealing with herbicide-resistant weeds this year. They put down residual herbicides, maintained the fields in a clean manner. That paid dividends in terms of yield in the beans we were able to cut.”
Then, the rains set in. Beans still in the field were ready, on average, at least four or five weeks ago.
“The fields I’ve walked have been hurt from a quality standpoint. But when you shell them out of the pod, they’re still acceptable. I’m not naïve enough to think the beans won’t have any damage when they’re brought to the elevator. Yes, the yield, test weights and quality have been hit, but I’m still optimistic about the bean crop. To have a decent crop, we just need to get in the field and rut them out in the next few days.”
Lanclos has heard of sprouting in pods. “That’s unfortunate, but that’s reality in these environmental conditions.”
Also part of that reality: the expected loss of some 15,000 soybean acres in the Cache River and White River bottoms of Arkansas’ Prairie County. With the rivers backed up, growers also could lose nearly 5,000 acres of rice.
“The flooding started in the spring and has been intermittent all through the season,” says Brent Griffin, Prairie County Extension staff chair. “Now, the water finally got them.”
It wasn’t for lack of a fight, though. “The rivers have been up and down all season. In some fields farmers have replanted three times. Much of the rice survived the early floods. Now that it is mature — or close to maturity — it hasn’t been able to push through.
“The ducks and geese will have some good food this winter, I guess.”
Any of the Prairie County Group 4s planted in May and early June have been mature for three weeks. “There’s a lot of pod and stem blight on those and a lot of cercospora on the seed coats,” says Griffin. “There’s also a white mold on the inside of the pods. In some cases, the bean seed have germinated, split the pods and are mostly ruined.”
Right now, soybean damage in the county is running between 10 and 50 percent. In talking to local elevators, “10 percent means a 50-cent per-bushel dock. Fifty percent damage means a dock of $4.50 per bushel.”
Based on the latest crop report, Prairie County’s soybean crop is 30 percent harvested. “We’ve got about 130,000 acres of soybeans. So, we’ve still got around 80,000 acres of beans in the field. Not only that, we’ve got 30 percent of our rice — or 20,000 acres — left to harvest.”
Farther west in Arkansas’ Faulkner County, Hank Chaney says since September, “we’ve probably had in excess of 20 inches of rain. We had incidents of flash flooding — that’s probably the best way to describe it — that took out considerable soybean acreage.
“We’re now worried about what the rains are doing the Arkansas River and tributaries. Creeks are beginning to back out onto soybeans. It’s turning out to be an ugly harvest season, to be put it mildly.
“Some farmers are going to have to wait for the water to crest and soils to dry down. All these mountains around here are sending water down into the waterways and it’s hammering the farms.”
Chaney, Extension staff chair for Faulkner County, says growers may have harvested 15 to 20 percent of their soybeans. Because it was so wet in the early spring, “lots of the normal acreage of rice went to soybeans. A lot of rice that was planted is still in the field — we just can’t catch a break to get it out.”
What about corn?
“Except for some very late-planted corn, most of it has been harvested. This is definitely affecting anyone thinking about growing a wheat crop. They’re looking at November before even considering planting. Right now, it’s cloudy and cool and nothing is drying down. And with what the river is doing, anyone that wants to plant wheat will be that much more nervous.”
In Mississippi and Louisiana, where Lanclos roams, most of the corn has been harvested. But “even at this late date, believe it or not, there’s still plenty of corn standing in the field. Lots of folks are waiting for the first frost to take the morningglories and other weeds out. They’re trying to save some money on a desiccation application because they know yields and quality are down.”
In general, producers haven’t been pleased with corn yields, says Lanclos. “That was to be expected because of the environmental conditions the crop faced: it was planted late, there was a drought and then the wet conditions.
“The dryland crop has averaged between 130 and 150 bushels per acre. That’s acceptable, but we’re really looking for a 160- to 170-bushel crop.”
On average, the irrigated crop is off by about 20 percent. Instead of 190 to 205 bushels per acre, “it’s yielding 170 to 175 bushels per acre. That’s been tough.”
Lanclos hasn’t seen much cotton on the ground. The major problem he has witnessed is sprouting in the bolls.
“Some farmers are also being forced to spend more money on defoliation. A lot of Louisiana cotton had been defoliated and was ready to be picked prior to the rains coming in. It’s been sitting there and lots of regrowth has been the result.
“We know the quality and yield are down in the cotton. But, again, I’m optimistic if the dry forecast holds for the (third week of October). Farmers have an innate ability to work in tough conditions and get crops out. If we have dry weather for the next week, by next Friday (Oct. 23), we should have almost 90 percent of the crops out.”
There is an additional price to harvesting in wet conditions: rutted fields.
Prairie County has a glut of them. “The ground is soft enough that these big machines are falling through,” says Griffin. “The hardpan is no longer hard enough.”
Without it drying down, “fields are totally inaccessible to combines,” says Lanclos. “Even to rut crops out, you’d have to take a dozer in to pull the combines out. Fields are being torn up. Guys with no-till/minimum-till will either have late-fall or spring tillage to fix things up. So, an expensive crop will be even more expensive.
“I’m not the only one that won’t be too sad to see the 2009 growing season end. Mother Nature has thrown us a really, really rough year.”
Chaney feels much the same. “2009 has really hurt some growers. Not only in Faulkner County, but statewide — misery everywhere. I know the cotton crop is dropping in quality as we speak. The bean crop can’t be harvested and now they’re turning soggy. That’s not to mention problems with soybean rust, stink bugs, blast, on and on. It’s hard to sugarcoat it. A lot of money has been spent on this crop. You stand there looking at all the wet fields and it’s like watching money flowing away.”