In mid-September much of the Mid-South was mired in a long stretch of grey, rain-soaked days. The prolonged wet period meant farmers were unable to bring in ready-to-harvest crops. Finally, fronts pushed through and, the week of September 28, harvest began again.
“Last we talked, harvest was going nowhere,” says Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension corn specialist, on Oct. 1. “Fortunately, we’ve had a good stretch of weather — close to a week of the wind blowing, not a lot of dew in the morning — and the ground has dried up. We’ve got a lot harvested in the last few days, although there’s a long way to go.”
Considering the date, one could normally expect corn to be bone dry. Not so, says Kelley. “Some of the corn that was ready for harvest at the end of August/early September is down to 14 or 15 percent moisture. Some of the later-planted corn is still running 18 to 20 percent, though.
“The corn yields don’t appear to have been hurt from that week-plus of rain. I’m still seeing good yields in my plots. Weights look good too, in many instances. A lot of my corn was planted a bit later and, at this point, that appears to be the better corn.”
What about sprouting in corn?
“I’m about to run some and get a grade on it,” says Kelley. “A lot depends on whether the shucks are good and tight. It is variable depending on what hybrid was planted and where you are in the state.”
In Mississippi, “I’m hearing that most of the corn coming out of the field is in relatively good condition considering the adverse weather it endured during September,” says Erick Larson, Mississippi Extension corn specialist. “I expect the corn to be lower test weight and suffer minor kernel sprouting and possibly other minor kernel damage. There will probably also be some lodging problems if any big wind hits. But, by and large, we’ve avoided a lot of major wind and the corn is still standing well.”
The latest USDA report has Mississippi corn at 80 percent harvested. However, “there’s a lot of corn in the northern half of the state that’s left to harvest — north of Clarksdale especially. Northeast Mississippi has well over 75 of their corn yet to be harvested.”
Larson knew northeast Mississippi corn “would be decent — and limited acres that have been harvested have been quite good. It was later than the rest of the state and sustained a few rains in June that the rest of the state didn’t receive. And because it was planted later it benefited from the July rains much more than other areas.
“We’ve just got to have two or three weeks of dry weather to get this crop out. It’s past time. Don’t forget, on top of everything else, we’ve got to get the fields ready to plant a crop next spring. We don’t need rutted up fields going into next spring.”
Mississippi’s soybean harvest is “rolling as fast as it possibly can,” says Trey Koger, Mississippi Extension soybean specialist. “We’re at least two weeks behind. A little over two weeks ago, we were 26 percent harvested. At this point, we’re probably between 35 and 40 percent harvested. So, in a short period, we’ve put a good dent in it.”
Farmers report that elevators are closely watching moisture levels. “Typically, they won’t take delivery on any beans over 15 percent moisture,” says Koger. “The biggest issue right now, though, is damage. We’ve got a fair amount of damage due to all the wet weather — anywhere from 2 to 85 percent. Even so, as a whole, our irrigated crop has stood up better, has held up better, and the quality is better than the dryland beans. A lot of the irrigated crop is coming in at anywhere between 4 and 12 percent damage. That’s the average — obviously there are extremes outside that.”
In Louisiana, soybean harvest has shown tremendous variation, says Ronnie Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist. “We’ve had fields of soybeans that have yielded in the upper 70-bushel range all the way down to the lower teens. Considering the weather farmers have faced, the quality has been good. Unfortunately, some of the fields that caught these last rains will likely see a negative impact on quality.”
Right now, many Louisiana soybean fields are cutting in the mid-30-bushel to lower 40-bushel range.
“I’m headed to some demonstration plots, right now. We’ll harvest three of them today. The northern part of the state is a bit behind the norm in harvest. In the south, we’re a bit ahead. Most of the Group 4s have been harvested and a good portion of the Group 5s have been cut.”
What about late season problems in Louisiana’s soybean crop?
“We were fortunate that most of the soybeans in Louisiana matured prior to soybean rust coming in late. We haven’t seen a lot of injury from that disease.”
However, even at this late date, Louisiana growers are still fighting insect pressure.
“Even our late beans are being sprayed on almost a weekly basis,” says Levy. “That’s primarily to deal with the red-banded stink bug. That pest can continue to do damage to within two weeks of harvest.
“The red-banded stink bug has become a monster for us. We can control them. We can get a good kill. But they keep coming back because there’s no long-term residual activity. As soon as the insecticide plays out, they’re back about five to seven days later.”
In east-central Arkansas, Chuck Farr, a Crawfordsville, Ark., consultant, is very happy to be back in the field.
“Fortunately, most of the rice isn’t down although that’s subject to change at any time,” says Farr. “It’s safe to say we’re only about 5 percent harvested on rice.
“Soybean harvest is in full swing, right now, and guys are going as hard as they can. We’re only about 10 percent harvested on soybeans.”
In the area, grain sorghum is about 95 percent harvested, corn — running about 16 percent moisture — is about 60 percent harvested, and “we haven’t picked a boll of cotton picked yet.”
Farr says “things are better than they could have been after that last rain system. At one point, we had corn sprouting in the cob, rice sprouting in the head, milo sprouting in the head, cotton sprouting in boll. Every crop we have was germinating. Thankfully, that’s settled down since we’ve been in this drier spell. We’ve had about five day run of good conditions.”
The forecast looks unfriendly, however. “Rains are projected to come through again and we’re already three weeks behind on harvest. October usually provides about half the month to harvest in. We need the whole month — and at least part of November — to be conducive for harvest this year.
“We’re making some headway and are cautiously optimistic, at this point. The soybean crop’s yields — at 10 to 12 percent moisture — are holding up very well. The rice crop — at 16 to 18 percent moisture — is an average to above-average crop. Unfortunately, early indications are that the cotton crop isn’t very good.”
The dash to harvest has backed things up at storage facilities. While the situation wasn’t unexpected, the long lines have caused growers to be “truck tight,” says Farr. “We can’t get trucks turned around at the mill, can’t get them dumped fast enough. As big as equipment is now, as much as grain-holding capacity as we have, we’re stymied because every grain truck, cart and combine is full and we can’t dump them.”
In north-central Arkansas’ Jackson County, “we’ve had a good few days this week and made quite a bit of harvest progress,” says Randy Chlapecka, county Extension chair. “We’ve got probably 40 percent of our rice harvested, by now. We’ve still got some late rice out there that we’re concerned about making it. But as far as the earlier-planted rice, moisture levels are down in the low-teens.”
A lot of the earlier crop has had good yields, says Chlapecka. “It isn’t area-wide, but some individual fields are cutting around 200 bushels dry. Obviously, we’re tickled with that.”
On the flipside, “some of the rice that faced adversity early with standing water, trouble getting stands and other things has been cutting 120 to 130 bushels.
“Corn yields have been pretty good. However, there’s been a lot of sprouting in the ear. That’s a concern for quality, obviously, and we’ve still quite a lot of corn in the field.”
What about soybeans? Are pods continuing to split?
“That’s eased up a little bit,” says Chlapecka. “Of course, everyone has been focused on getting the rice out — and corn, too — so we haven’t been looking at the beans as much.”
Back in Mississippi, Koger remains encouraged with the soybean crop’s potential. “As a whole, the quality is better than what we thought it would be considering all the rain. We don’t like any damage, of course.”
As for sprouting, “visual perception is an interesting thing,” says Koger. “Your eye naturally pinpoints sprouting. It’s dramatic. But if you actually look at how many pods are in a field versus how many have sprouted, it isn’t as bad as it first appears.”
Many of the fields Koger and colleagues have looked at the last couple of weeks “had less than 1 percent of pods sprouting.”
Mississippi farmers wish they could cut soybeans through the night. “Corn can be harvested at night in some situations. But it’s very difficult to do that with soybeans. If the wind is blowing and there’s no dew, you can cut into the night. But any kind of dew on a soybean and it becomes hard to cut. Unfortunately, except for a few situations, that keeps us from harvesting beans at night.”
Grain sorghum in both Arkansas and Mississippi were hard hit by the excessive rainfall. “If there’s an ugly spot, it’s sorghum,” says Kelley. “A lot of that did sprout. If it’s showing significant damage, many of the grain terminals don’t want to take it. If it’s sample grade — say, 15 percent damage or greater — it’s hard to find a place to dump.”
Larson: “Sorghum here is in poor shape with severe kernel sprouting. Thankfully we don’t have much. But most of what we do have has quality issues. USDA has our sorghum at only 47 percent harvested.”
With a forecast calling for a wet week of Oct. 5, Mid-South growers are scrambling to harvest whatever they can while it remains dry.
“We’re certainly concerned with the forecast but thankful that at least this week has let us make some progress,” says Chlapecka.
“I’m hoping this next round of rains will blow on out and allow us to dry down quickly,” says Koger. “The way it stands, I think any damage from it will be minimal. The recent cooler temps and north winds have helped dry down the fields and we need a lot more of that.”