This is the third year that Jeremy Ross, Arkansas Extension corn and sorghum verification program coordinator, has walked and worked fields for his job. In terms of stress on the corn, grain sorghum, irrigation and spraying machinery, he says it was the easiest thus far.

“I had 10 cornfields in Craighead, Jackson, Johnson, Lawrence, Lincoln, Monroe, Poinsett, Prairie, St. Francis, and Yell counties. The fields varied in acreage from 34 acres to 142 acres, all on good soils. All the cornfields were irrigated except for the fields in Yell and Johnson counties.”

Among the 10 fields, 10 varieties were used. Ross typically met with farmers last winter and went through the newest corn seed update. Ross carried in a list of hybrids he liked, and the farmers had theirs.

“We talked it out and came up with a variety we both liked. Sometimes it took some compromise, sometimes they just let me pick the variety. The hybrids we chose all ended up being in the top 20 percent of those profiled.”

After getting a farmer in the program, Ross waits for warmer weather and drier soils.

“As soon as it warms up and dries up enough, I go out and take soil samples. Hopefully, the results are back by planting time so we can get out the proper amount of fertilizer. I try to make sure the proper seeding rate is used along with the planting depths and the like.”

Last year, it was wet early. Verification producers had some problems getting seed in because soils wouldn't dry up. That meant producers were late getting some of the fields planted — sometimes three weeks or so.

Once corn seed was planted, however, the season unfolded beautifully.

“While we didn't have to spray the verification fields, the state's crop did have some problems with chinch bugs early. A few calls on cutworms didn't amount to much compared to the chinch bugs. And a few corn and grain sorghum fields ended up being sprayed once for chinch bugs. Other than that, though, we didn't have much trouble with pests or diseases.”

As the season progressed, the corn crop's potential was “just amazing. We started getting frequent showers in June, and that seemed to last well into July. It just worked out well. Other than at the end of the season, we never stressed for rain too much. On furrow-irrigated verification fields, we were typically short three irrigations that we normally apply. That was due to the rains.”

Many farmers use verification fields to see how Extension does things and how that can help with the rest of their operations. Ross says watching how Extension personnel manage a field “stresses the need for timeliness in everything. Farmers know their business, but everybody can tweak situations.”

Some cornfields had a couple of varieties planted. Verification fields averaged 161 bushels per acre. That was 21 bushels better than the state average of 140 bushels.

“We were actually down a little this year because of dryland fields being averaged in along with a couple of other factors. But we still ended up 21 bushels better than the state average, so that's not bad at all.

“In Craighead County, we planted Pioneer 33J57 (a Bt variety). The field was actually split in two — 20 acres had a late-season application of nitrogen we've been harping on for the last couple of years. We applied 100 pounds of urea right before the tassel emerged. The late-application side cut 134 bushels per acre. The 20 acres that didn't receive the late-season fertilizer cut 112 bushels.”

Those yields might raise some eyebrows, says Ross, but this field was the victim of a late spring hailstorm that hit Jonesboro, Ark. The hail wiped out the first planting. The crop ended up being planted about five weeks past the optimal planting time. Ross is convinced the field would have done “much, much better” if the hail hadn't struck.

Other locations and varieties:

  • “In Jackson County, we planted Pioneer 31B13. That field cut 209 bushels.

  • “In Johnson County, we planted Pioneer 3223. That field was not irrigated and cut 149 bushels per acre.”

  • In Lawrence County, Terral TV2160 was planted. It cut 186 bushels per acre.

  • “In St. Francis, we had two varieties planted: Pioneer 32P76 (which cut 183 bushels) and Terral TV2130 (which cut 181 bushels). The farmer who worked this field hadn't planted corn before.”

Ross says he's hearing that seed of the top corn varieties is going fast. Seed is tightening up because — along with a poor harvest in the Midwest — Arkansas went from 185,000 harvested acres of corn in 2001 to 315,000 in 2002. Ross expects that acreage will be close to 400,000 in 2003.

Regarding grain sorghum, in 2001, Arkansas producers planted 170,000 acres. In 2002, they planted 230,000 acres and averaged 80 bushels. For 2003, Ross expects a grain sorghum leap to 350,000 acres or so.

“Last year, we had three grain sorghum verification fields in Clay (73 acres), Cross (35 acres) and Pulaski counties. The fields in both Clay and Pulaski counties were irrigated. The verification fields averaged 100 bushels. We used two varieties: Terral 1050 and Dyna-Gro 780B. The Clay County field, which was intensely managed, cut 142 bushels.

“The interesting thing is the Pulaski County field had 41 irrigated acres and 16 acres that was dryland. The irrigated portion cut 125 bushels and the dryland cut 60 bushels. By irrigating, the farmer more than doubled his yield. He had the same fertility across the acres and all of it was cultivated. The only difference was irrigation.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com.