Heavy rains have settled in over the Mid-South and, as the first week of May ended, even more was forecast.
After a month of wet conditions, many farmers will have major management decisions to make once things dry down.
“The biggest problem to deal with right now is corn,” says David Lanclos, a Syngenta tech service rep who works both Louisiana and Mississippi. “We were late planting and, on top of that, there have been a lot of replants. There have been further struggles with some of the replants that probably shouldn’t have occurred.”
That has led to many fields where the plant populations are too high, says Lanclos. Producers and consultants are trying to figure out how best to handle those fields.
“There are several options. Fungicides and additional nitrogen at tasseling will probably solve most of those problems.”
There have also been a lot of questions about how much fertilizer has leached through the soil and how much should be added. “I’m telling folks that’s a wait-and-see situation, right now. We’ve got to wait the rain out, see how much is eventually dumped before making the best decision.”
With all the wet weather, “planting is stalled — cotton and soybeans. The forecasts don’t look favorable, either. Best-case scenario: even on sandier soils, farmers won’t be in the field” until the week of May 11.
Much of Mississippi has seen “substantial” rainfall, says Erick Larson, Mississippi Extension corn/wheat specialist. “Couple that with what we got last weekend and most areas of Mississippi north of I-20 have received 5 inches of rain, or more. It is extremely wet, there’s flooding in low-lying areas.”
The excessive water could cause problems for any of the emerged crops, warns Larson. Corn can tolerate about 48 hours of flooded conditions, normally. However, “these latest rains have been on already-saturated land. That leads me to worry.
“There will also be other management issues that the wet soils and rain are holding up — late split applications of nitrogen as well as post-emergence herbicide applications.”
The main concern is simply having the soils dry before the corn gets too tall to permit herbicide applications and tractor passage through the field. When the latest series of rains hit, “a lot of our corn was just beginning to enter rapid growth stages and was starting to respond to the stretch of sunny weather we had in late April.”
When corn gets over a foot tall, “it can grow incredibly fast,” says Larson. “It can hit 30 inches tall, or taller, in 10 to 14 days. Being this wet at this time of year complicates things immensely for farmers.
“It would also help if conditions stay cool. Not only would that keep the crop growing slower — and allow farmers to get back into the field before it gets too tall — but it would also allow the crop to better tolerate flooded conditions. Cooler water is easier for corn to handle.”
Many south Arkansas farmers — “say in Chicot County and Ashley County — were able to get corn planted in a timely manner,” says Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension corn specialist. “But go much farther north — not even as far as Dumas — and corn planting was far behind. (The USDA) says we’re at 90 percent planted.
“That may be so, but a lot of fields are replanted and that’s not always an easy call. Often, bottoms of fields are thin and the tops are okay. And we haven’t had many opportunities to replant even if we wanted to. It’s just been too wet.”
Kelley and colleagues are working with 11 corn verification fields this year. To illustrate the difficulty of finding a window to plant, several of the verification fields “were planted April 5-8. The others were planted around April 25. Then the rains hit again. That’s it: two short breaks in the weather.”
A lot of rivers and creeks are backed out on Arkansas fields. The same thing happened last year, Kelley points out. However, last year “the flooding happened before a lot of the crop was planted. This time around, I don’t think the floodwaters will get as high. But the crops don’t care as long as they’re underwater.”
Recent planting date studies showed Arkansas corn’s best yields came in fields planted at the end of April or first of May. “We had two verification fields last year planted in May — one the first week, the other around May 20. Both made 200 bushels, so all isn’t lost.”
Larson agrees that the corn crop isn’t yet “at the tipping point. Even if it rains for another few days, it won’t devastate the corn or wheat. Floods could, but not the rain itself. I am worried for the corn that’s already been in flooded — or near-flooded — conditions for the last 24 hours.”
The relentless rainy weather “sure won’t help the wheat crop, either. For the most part, wheat is in grain-filling stages. Saturated conditions could stunt the wheat and, possibly, reduce the number of kernels that fill or drop the seed weights.”
If wheat is on well-drained ground, “all this rain may not hurt as much. However, a lot of the wheat in the Mississippi Delta is in fairly low-lying fields and often on soils capable of holding water. I suspect this weather will knock the wheat back and hurt its potential.”
Lanclos remains “very optimistic” about the growing season’s potential. “If we continue to be inundated and not gather the needed heat units, every crop will look sluggish. That’s certainly what is happening — nothing is growing. We’ve had air temperatures of 86 in some locations. But the soil temperatures haven’t kept pace. The crop is growing a lot slower than it needs to. But it isn’t catastrophic at this point. It’s more frustrating than anything else.”