In April, masses of hungry armyworms marched into Delta wheat fields. Reports of 60 worms per square foot were commonplace. To combat the worms, some Mississippi and Arkansas farmers — representing 26,000-plus acres of wheat — employed Fury, an FMC pesticide.
As promised, the pesticide (already labeled for cotton) did its job on 6,000 Arkansas acres and 20,000 Mississippi acres. Unfortunately, the product lacked — and still lacks — federal approval for use on wheat. Farmers who used the product were later shocked when told not to market their crops.
With farmers in limbo and a public relations disaster in the making, FMC has announced it will buy the tainted harvest. The company will store the wheat until Fury's use on wheat is okayed by EPA, something that is expected soon.
FMC insists its agreeing to purchase the affected wheat shouldn't be viewed as a mea culpa. Company spokesmen point out FMC had nothing to do with suggesting the illegal use of the product.
William Johnson, Arkansas Extension wheat and corn specialist, says FMC's willingness to buy the wheat, “is a smart thing to do. They had the potential for a public relations nightmare and they dealt with it properly.”
Johnson's Mississippi counterpart, Erick Larson, says he's heard farmers “are pretty pleased with the Fury settlement. All the reports I'm getting from farmers are positive.”
The Fury-sprayed Arkansas acreage should translate to between 320,000 and 350,000 bushels, says Johnson. “FMC is supposed to purchase even seed wheat. I think it's the best thing for everyone.”
“It's a shame, but this has been a wake-up call, says Johnson. Something like this was bound to happen. The Arkansas State Plant Board really has had some teeth on this situation and I think that's fantastic. Farmers should be happy with how they handled it.”
Putting the Fury situation aside, how did the Delta crop do overall?
“I think the wheat crop will be fair. Wet conditions and goose feeding reduced stands early. Conditions did dry out and helped promote growth, so we saw very few leaf diseases. But during late spring, in some areas it actually got too dry. It was hard to find a balance. As a result, the heads didn't fill out as well as they could have,” says Larson.
Then it started raining in May and the wheat quality deteriorated. Larson says Mississippi also saw some shattering problems.
“The combination of weather extremes really did a job on our yields compared to what they could have been. We're still looking at 46 or 47 bushels per acre average. That's down three or four bushels from last year,” says Larson.
In regards to the armyworms, the data from Arkansas “looks odd,” says Johnson.
“We had (test) fields that were half sprayed. Where they completely defoliated wheat, in two fields they had no yield loss at all and in another field they lost five bushels (per acre).”
That tends to show that in a year when there aren't many armyworms, they don't really have that great an impact.
“When you have 60 armyworms per square foot and you get results like those, it's amazing. The spraying threshold is five to six per square foot. We were getting counts 10 times that and we only saw a five-bushel yield loss in one field. That tends to suggest we need to revisit our armyworm threshold recommendations.”
Johnson has been saying Arkansas will likely have an average yield of 52 or 53 bushels. The USDA's last report had the state pegged at 51 bushels.
“Anything that was planted up to Oct. 15 has been cutting 60-plus bushels. Anything planted after Oct. 25 ranges from 30 bushels to 50,” says Johnson.
Some 10 to 15 percent of Arkansas' wheat crop was affected by late-season Hessian flies. “I'm guessing that between 75,000 and 100,000 acres were affected. The problem was particularly apparent in the northeast part of the state. It's hard to know how much the flies hurt yields, but there was some impact,” says Johnson.
“Our corn is looking pretty good right now. We did have some excessive rainfall from the storm system that came through the week of June 10. That caused some minor flooding and waterlogging in the northeastern part of the state,” says Larson.
That's not all bad, though. Mississippi was getting extremely dry from mid- to late-May.
“Our dryland corn would have been in dire straits if we hadn't gotten that heavy rain to replenish the subsoil moisture. The corn was just approaching the most sensitive time of the year for water stress — tasseling and pollination. That rainfall, as heavy as it was, came at an ideal time to relieve that stress.
We're still about four weeks from shutting off irrigation,” says Larson.
The only real problem with the rain was the wet weather delayed nitrogen applications — particularly in low-lying fields in the northeastern part of Mississippi. That will reduce the yield potential of those fields significantly, he says.
“We're starting to pick up some second-generation Southwestern corn borer. There have been reports from growers with pheromone traps out that they're picking up high numbers,” says Larson.
The traps are used as an indicator to let corn farmers know when to start scouting for the borers. There are three generations of borers that occur during the year: one at mid-May, one in late June and one in early August. So it's getting close to raising the curtain on generation number two.
“I tend to go along with corn acreage estimates of 400,000 in the state. Actually acreage may be a tad bit lower,” says Larson.
While there was too much rain in Mississippi, Arkansas didn't get enough.
“Our corn needs rain. The week of June 10, we got a good rain from Batesville to Little Rock to Texarkana. But by the time it reached Dumas, the rain petered out and the corn fields didn't get much,” says Johnson.
Until this week everyone had been saying this was one of the best-looking corn crops ever. “But we haven't had enough rain and people aren't irrigating as much as they should. If the crop doesn't get enough water right now it'll go south quick,” says Johnson.