On Nov. 4, Gus Wilson took a sample of soybeans with 100 percent damage.
“It was the first time I’ve seen that,” says the Chicot County, Ark., Extension staff chair. “The situation here is bad, bleak. We’ll be lucky to make half the crop we’ve made in the last three to four years. That’s strictly due to the weather.”
Chicot County in extreme southeast Arkansas has caught huge rains all fall. Now, watching crops deteriorate, Wilson says he’s not seen “a group of growers who’ve been more discouraged. Those who were planning to plant wheat may be out of luck. If there’s wheat planted and emerged in Chicot County, I don’t know where it’s at.”
As in the rest of the Mid-South, the county has had several good days of weather. But fields “are rutting up big-time. The cost to our farmers for field preparation next year is going to be high. Rice ground will definitely have be disked a couple of times and landplaned — we’ve got major ruts. The lower ends of fields are horrible.
“People are getting stuck, left and right. This heavy buckshot is just at the right doughy stage where it wants to stick and not shed.
“We have lost some crops already and there’s still water backed up. There will be parts of fields abandoned.”
A two-hour drive north towards Pine Bluff, Ark., Don Plunkett has a better report.
“We’re finally able to harvest some cotton even though some fields have wet ends from bayous and streams backing up,” says the Jefferson County Extension staff chair. “Soybean harvest is moving pretty rapidly. A lot of county farmers had already finished corn and rice and are trying to move swiftly through their soybeans.”
The Jefferson County Group 5s “look fine. Farmers aren’t taking heavy dockage on them and yields are really good.
“The negatives are with the Group 4s and early-planted beans that sat in the field for up to seven weeks before harvest. There was a lot decay and rot in those. Now, we’re into some pretty good beans.”
Plunkett says area elevators are “looking closely at what they accept. Around here, I think they’ll go up to about 20 percent dockage. So far, the bad bean situations have been running in the 15 percent dockage range. Some may be a little higher than that.”
If good weather holds, Plunkett doesn’t expect cotton harvest to last into December. “Here, we only have about 4,800 acres of cotton. If they can get in the field this week with the six-row pickers they’ll pick a bunch of it. Those machines can really move.”
Plunkett, like Wilson, is worried about planting wheat. “It’s been a horrible time to try and get wheat planted. Some was mudded in before the last bad round of rains. I haven’t gone out to see if it needs to be replanted. The growers wanting to plant wheat are just now able to get in the field for that.”
Back in Chicot County, Wilson says the early corn harvested “was okay. I’d estimate that, compared to the last two years, we were down to 35 to 45 bushels per acre. That was because of the spring rains.”
Faced with a seemingly unceasing deluge in 2009, veteran farmers are struggling to come up with a similar year in the past.
“My father is 82 years old and he’s farmed 55 to 60 years,” says Wilson. “He says this is the worst harvest season he’s ever seen. Out of his career, he said only one year comes close — he can’t remember if it was in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
“It’s awful. I’m hearing, ‘I won’t be able to pay my bills.’ I hope that doesn’t mean there will be any bankruptcies. Hopefully, there will be a disaster payment, a direct payment from the feds.”
Chicot County’s cotton and soybeans have taken the worst beating.
“I was very pleased with the way the cotton had loaded up,” says Wilson. “We started out a little rough in the spring because of the wet weather but it came through. These fall rains have taken at least half the crop.”