Record low temperatures around Easter, which shocked plants and planters from southeast Missouri to McGehee, Ark., might not have hurt the emerging corn crop so badly had warm weather immediately followed. But it didn't — and hundreds of thousands of acres of corn had to be replanted in the Mid-South.
According to Andy Vangilder, Extension agent for Clay County, Ark., 90 percent to 95 percent of the corn planted in the county prior to the freeze, representing about 60 percent of total expected acres, will have to be destroyed. “Most farmers are trying to plant back to corn. Some of the dryland fields are going to soybeans and some of the cotton farmers are going back to cotton. I don't have a handle on it yet. I'm hearing all types of scenarios.”
In some cases, freezing temperatures in early April killed plants outright, according to Vangilder. “Our growers have had experience with heavy frost damage, but we have not had experience with a hard freeze. Normally in a heavy frost, you can lose all your aboveground tissue, but the corn comes back because the growing point is still good because the frost damage did not get close to the growing point.
“With the hard freeze, we were experiencing ultra low temperatures that penetrated the soil line and reached down closer to the growing point, a lot closer than we were comfortable with. That's why we lost so much stand.”
Temperatures finally climbed back above freezing, but cool weather stuck around for nine more days, sapping strength of surviving plants. “Once plants used up that energy, a lot of them died off.”
Vangilder estimates total replanted acres in the county at between 10,000 acres and 15,000 acres. “It's been hard on the farmers, trying to figure out which fields to keep. The other headache is trying to figure out weed control options for the corn that is there. A lot of them are tearing the beds down or knocking the top of the beds off trying to kill that old crop.”
Greg Pfeffer, Pioneer area agronomist based in southeast Missouri, says the Missouri Bootheel was about 90 percent planted when the freeze struck. “We estimated that about 60 percent of the crop was up at that time. We will have to replant 75 percent of what was up.”
As much as 250,000 to 275,000 acres of corn will have to be replanted in southeast Missouri, which is sending corn seed distributors into scramble mode. “We've been pulling seed from as far away as Michigan, Iowa and Nebraska and all regions of the country to try and get hybrids into southeast Missouri,” Pfeffer said.
“We're also reconditioning and reworking units. All are southern-adapted hybrids that we have grown here in the past. We have good data on them, so growers won't be planting hybrids that aren't adapted for their area.”
Popular genetics are in short supply, according to Pfeffer. “They might not get their original-planted hybrid or their first choice, but we are able to come up with units for replant. Roundup Ready/Bt hybrids are in short supply, but we are coming up with straight Bt and Roundup Ready hybrids.
“We've worked real hard to get growers replant seed and get agronomic information to them so they can make educated decisions.”
Clarkedale, Ark., farmer Allen Helms replanted 100 percent of the corn that was up and growing on his farm at the time of the freeze. “It's a sad situation. We had the prettiest start we ever had.”
He's satisfied that his replant seed has sufficient yield potential, but expects corn yield has been impacted with later planting. “The older corn was off to a great start. I don't think there's any doubt we've lost a little yield potential. After April 15, we are beginning to lose a few bushels every day.”
“We got lucky,” said Jonesboro producer Marty White, who planted 1,600 acres of corn this spring. “We had just planted our corn and it was not up when the freeze came. It didn't get cold enough to freeze the ground.”
White says neighbors who are replanting “aren't getting the Bt/Roundup hybrids they want. But right now, most are happy just to take conventional seed. I do know of two farmers who went to Illinois to pick up seed.”
According to Larry Ganann with Monsanto in Marion, Ark., as much as 200,000 acres of corn may have to be replanted in Arkansas this spring. Monsanto, which sells Asgrow and DeKalb brands, is filling replant seed orders, although growers may not get the hybrid they request.
Ganann says by April 20 “corn seed is pretty much going to be gone. There is still some false optimism out there that the crop would come back. But 24-25 degree temperatures from I-40 north froze the growing point. And we had some shallow growing points on some of this corn. It's made for a mess, that's for sure.”
Ganann says significant replanting is also occurring along Hwy. 65 from McGehee to Pine Bluff. “We estimate growers in the McGehee to Pine Bluff area will have to replant about a third of the acres that were up at the time of the freeze.”
Ganann says most of the freeze-damaged corn still standing after the freeze has gone downhill fast. “We've run out of juice on our seed treatments. So now we're exposed in that root environment and some of those plants are catching disease.”
Pfeffer says corn producers will likely see more corn borer pressure this year, due to later planting. “Typically, in plantings after April 10, we see the percentage of corn borers increase. We need to monitor this situation and maybe we can offset any damage with an insecticide application.”
As disastrous as the start was for corn, many producers are more concerned about freeze damage to the Mid-South wheat crop. Significant yield reductions are likely.
White said he “has no idea” of the freeze's impact on his 850 acres of wheat. “I'm trying to stay positive. I don't expect a bumper crop, but I'm hoping it's not as bad as what we think. My consultant thinks we have damage, but he just doesn't know how bad it is. We had an excellent crop, I was expecting 70-plus bushels. I spent some money on it. I don't know what we'll have now.”
“We're afraid that there may be 80 percent to 100 percent losses,” Helms added. “But we can't tell at this point. We'll know more in a couple of weeks.”