The Mid-South corn harvest began early this year. “We're at least two weeks ahead of normal,” said Erick Larson, Mississippi Extension corn specialist.
“The extreme drought — something Mississippi is still in the midst of — hastened crop maturity. Also, the warm conditions in the early part of the season accelerated the crop right out of the gate. The combination of those two things has led to this situation.”
Arkansas corn producers have a similar story to tell.
“We're about a week to two weeks ahead of schedule — at least 10 days,” said Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension corn specialist. “March was really warm and the crop popped out of the ground raring to go. Normally, the crop might take two weeks to come up.
“This year, it was up in a week. It hasn't slowed down much since.”
A producer Kelley works with in southeast Arkansas began harvesting July 25. “I asked if that was the earliest he'd ever started. He said, ‘If not, it's within a day or two.’”
Of the three southernmost Delta states, Louisiana has been at corn the longest.
“We've easily cut 40 to 45 percent of our corn,” said David Lanclos, LSU AgCenter corn specialist. “That's a week to 10 days ahead of our norm. By now, most farmers are running full throttle to get crops out. It isn't just corn. There are beans and milo ready to go. And, in some cases, rice is ready too.”
Louisiana's dryland corn yields have been between 80 bushels and 125 bushels per acre. “I'm not disappointed in that, at all. We haven't cut as much irrigated corn since it's a week, or so, later. But numbers I'm hearing run from 120 to 180 bushels. The northeast parishes have 75 percent of the state's 330,000 acres — Madison, Richland, Tensas, portions of Concordia, East and West Carroll.
Louisiana's crop didn't get the quick start other states' did.
“But when pollination arrived, for the most part, we had weather that was decent. Shortly thereafter, when it came time for seed fill, we had optimum moisture for most of the state. Of course, there were growers irrigating but much of the state also received rain. That saved our crop.”
In Mississippi, few harvest reports have reached Larson. Those that have show “yields have been fair. Most dryland is between 80 bushels and 115 bushels per acre.
“There have been no reports of aflatoxin. I'm very happy about that and not expecting any. It's hard enough for farmers with good crops — everyone is in an economic pinch.”
Mississippi producers have had to irrigate corn more than Larson can remember in his 12-year tenure. “This is, by far, the worst year in terms of drought stress across the entire state. And it isn't just corn that appears to be short in yield — it wouldn't surprise me to hear other crops are hurting too. Regardless, because of so much irrigation, the crops will be very expensive.”
Kelley said he just visited a verification farmer who'd begun harvest in east Arkansas. “He said moisture was at 19 to 20 percent. It was all going in the bin, so he didn't know the yield. From what I'm hearing, most yields are sound. Now, there is some dryland corn that will pull yields down — those are running around 80 to 100 bushels.”
There also may be a few late-planted/replant corn fields still being watered. But the vast majority has had irrigation terminated and “this hot, dry weather that's zapping other crops is actually helping to dry down our corn.
“I got word today that some fungicides are being applied in north-central Arkansas. Those are being put out on some late-planted corn to help keep southern rust at bay. Some of that rust is moving but most of the crop is well past the point when it could impact yields.”
Mississippi's sorghum acreage is down to around 20,000 to 30,000 acres. Larson suspects the crop will be “relatively short. However, it's typically better at handling drought. As a whole, because it's more stable under such stress, it shouldn't have its yield reduced as much as dryland corn.”
Arkansas' sorghum acreage is also down. “The irrigated acreage is going to be good,” said Kelley. “But the dryland crop did suffer quite a bit in this drought. The sorghum is early, too. It's at least as far ahead of the norm as corn — maybe a little further.”
It's a different sorghum story in Louisiana. With about 25 percent of the crop harvested, “we're probably cutting about 120 bushels,” said Lanclos. “Thus far, the lowest yield I've heard is 90. We'll have some worse fields but those will be fields planted in inadequate moisture where atrazine was never activated. Johnsongrass took over and many just let the fields go.
“The vast majority of sorghum acres, though — 80,000, or so — will probably average 90 to 110 bushels. It's shaping up to be an exceptional sorghum year.”