In early November, with a million acres still waiting to be combined, Arkansas soybean farmers were itching to finish harvest. Wet fields wouldn't let them.
“The latest rains have definitely been bad for us,” says Chris Tingle, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist. “What's making it even worse is we were set up by dry weather at season's end. Some areas of the state went 35 to 40 days without a rain.”
The dry weather made beans mature rapidly and somewhat prematurely. Even with irrigation “we weren't keeping up with the demands of plants. In some areas, moisture levels in mature seed were less than 10 percent.
“Producers who went ahead and harvested the crop (prior to the onset of rains) did okay — at least the crop was out. Hindsight is 20/20: we should've gotten out all the beans we could.”
Even so, for those harvested it took more beans to make a bushel. “Our yields dropped because the moisture was so low. And we've had damaged seed. Anytime moisture levels are low when seed is moved around — from grain bin to truck to wherever — it can be damaged.”
Then, poor October weather set in: frequent rains, high temperatures, foggy mornings and high humidity. Tingle says dry beans “acted like a sponge” exposed to the moisture.
“They went from, say, 8 percent moisture to 28 percent moisture. They swelled.”
All this led to late-season diseases attacking pods. Discoloration is hurting the quality of the crop.
“We hadn't really taken into account until recently that the shrinking/expanding action of the beans was causing them to shatter — even in varieties that have never had shattering problems before. But this extreme physical movement has broken down the suture on the pods.”
When the sun reappears, Tingle says, many of the pods will dry and split open. Those beans will be lost to the ground.
“I'm fielding many calls from producers working fields flooded by nearby rivers, creeks and major ditches. They want to know how long mature beans can stay underwater and still be okay. The answer: not long, at all.”
Tingle has been encouraging growers hit from so many directions to make field-by-field decisions. “If there's any doubt whatsoever before cutting a field, harvest a sample and take it to your buyer for a verdict. Some fields are total losses, and adding harvesting expenses to the problem is pointless.”
Rain, says Tingle, has been the crop's nemesis all year. “It seems our early crop and late crop will be okay. Currently, the very late crop — beans planted in July — is in much better shape than those planted earlier. Yield definitely will drop, though. The state was projected to have a 40-bushel average this year. That is going to be tough to meet. I thought that would be tough before all the rain. Now, hitting that mark will be next to impossible.”
Tingle has also begun to get calls on sprouting — or suspected sprouting — in pods.
“The big killer for us the last few days is the temperature,” he says. “If it had rained and been 38 degrees, it wouldn't be nearly the problem it's been with 70 degrees and 98 percent humidity. Look at those factors and they add up to ideal germination conditions. This also is a perfect disease environment. Disease is nibbling away at profits and quality.”
Group 5 seed
What will this do to Group 5 seed grown in the state? “That's something we haven't thought about until recently. A lot of Group 5 seed is in problem areas. Quality is going to be very low in these fields. Throughout the season, growers have done everything they could to promote good quality: fungicides, irrigations, planting dates. But the season-end conditions are something we can't prepare for. We're set up for a reduced supply of Group 5s. The high concentration of seed production of that maturity group is being impacted.”
Unable to cut a plot for over three weeks, William Johnson, field sales agronomist with Pioneer, says many of the beans he's seen “look awful — badly weathered. I know that the quality of a lot of the seed beans has to be suspect. We may see a lot of seed beans — especially Group 5s — sent to oil mills because of poor germ. These rainy weeks lately have hammered the late crop.”
Johnson has also taken calls on sprouting in pods. “We've had such warm weather (highs in the 80s across much of the state) with mist floating down all day. That's like putting a seed in a wet paper towel and leaving it on the window sill.”
Johnson says next year's planting expectations — on the heels of this season's “outstanding yields off the early soybean production system” — are 55 to 65 percent of the state's beans in Group 4s.
“I think we'll be heavily weighted to the late Group 4s since they don't have the shattering troubles of the early Group 4s. Late Group 4s will hold in the field two or three weeks after maturity. You don't see that nearly as much in the late Group 3s and early Group 4s — they need to be harvested very quickly.
“Still, we're seeing a lot of focus on early Group 4s and late Group 3s. Farmers know by using these early beans, harvest can be staggered. A lot of producers like being done with harvest in the first week of September.”
Another factor that will play into early beans next year is stem canker — a tremendous problem in Group 5s.
“If you didn't have a bean with canker resistance, you were hurt,” says Johnson. “The Group 4s do get some canker, but even the susceptible varieties were able to outrun it.”
Staggering harvest is also attractive to many producers. “Unless we get a hurricane, September is normally the driest month of the year. Rice producers who can plant a late Group 4 in mid- to late-May will be harvesting following rice. Lots of times a late Group 4 won't be ready until Sept. 20 or later. Most of the time, rice harvest begins in mid-August and, if weather holds, will wrap up in mid-September. Who wouldn't want to walk from rice fields right into Group 4 beans?”
Fertilizer prices are expected to push more acres into soybeans next year. Had Arkansas not produced excellent rice and cotton crops, the acres would have risen even further, says Tingle. “Will we see 4 million to 4.5 million acres of soybeans next year? I don't think so. Increases of 250,000 to 350,000 acres are more realistic.”