Mississippi soybean producers were waiting on rainfall to finish planting wheat-beans as the July 4 holiday rolled around, and some farmers along the Mississippi River from Natchez to Vicksburg were still trying to get their full-season crop in, having been hit by floodwaters three times.
That’s the type of planting season it’s been, noted Trey Koger, the state’s Extension soybean specialist. “We have a highly variable crop and it’s going to make for a challenging year. Anywhere in the state you can find some pretty nice soybeans. But you can go anywhere in the state and find beans that have been replanted and have a long way to go.”
Koger says the northeast Mississippi soybean crop is very small, while some beans in the west part of the state “are just beautiful.” Non-irrigated acres on the eastern part of the state “need a drink,” Koger said. “They were planted in April. If we get a good soaking rain soon, it’s going to take them a long way.”
Unfortunately, most of Mississippi’s rainfall had shut down by mid-June and irrigation of the crop “is wide open, and has been for two weeks,” Koger said.
Koger said producers in Mississippi will likely be looking at a long harvest season because of the wide differences in crop maturity. “Bugs are hard to predict, but we will probably go through some things we haven’t gone through before with respect to late-season worm pressure. We’re going to have to do a real good job of managing stink bugs in the late crop.”
Willard Jack, a soybean producer from Belzoni, Miss., says his 1,400-acre soybean crop is a little later than he would like. “But as a whole, the crop has great potential as long as we can continue to pump water.”
Jack, whose crop is 100 percent irrigated, has locked in some excellent soybean prices although the basis has widened considerably. “We didn’t pre-price too much early because we were afraid of the rising price of fuel and other costs. We have to be careful to not lock ourselves into a loss. We’ve sold about 50 percent of our corn and soybean production. We’re at around $12 on beans and a little better that $5 on corn.”
While grain prices seem otherworldly, Jack stresses that his risks are higher than ever because his input costs have shot up by 25 percent to 40 percent over last year. “Any bobble along the way can put you in serious financial straits in a hurry. It’s like diesel fuel. At the start of the year, we budgeted approximately $100,000 for our fuel, and we spent that last month.
“Last year, we bought our fuel early and pre-paid for a lot of inputs. We thought we’d get by with a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in cost over the year before. Now it looks like it’s closer to 40 percent to 50 percent. And next year, it could go up again. If we see a dip in the price, we’ll see tremendous drop-off in profitability. I don’t know where you go from there.”
The cool, wet spring seems to be forgotten in west Tennessee. Rains that kept planters parked and pushed producers to near panic have given way to hot, often windy, dry weather that’s zapped moisture from soils. About 95 percent plus acres of west Tennessee soybeans are produced on dryland acres, and producers were still looking for a good soaking rain in early July.
As of July 2, west Tennessee’s nearly 1 million acre soybean crop was about 95 percent planted, according to Angela Thompson, the state’s Extension soybean specialist. “Some replanting occurred in May-planted soybeans that went through a spell of cool weather and lost quite a bit on stand. We had some wheat-beans that didn’t have enough moisture to come up and we had to replant a few of them.”
Overall, the crop “looks pretty good,” Thompson said. “Stands counts are probably lower than we’d like them to be. But as late as planting was, if growers got a uniform, decent stand of 85,000 plants or above, they kept them.”
Thompson noted that rains prevented planting of much of the early crop. “So instead of having planting dates ranging from mid-April to the end of May for full-season soybeans, most of our full-season beans went out the second week of May and after.”
Farmers usually time planting so that harvest is spread out over various crops and maturities, allowing a relatively smooth transition from shelling corn to harvesting soybeans and cotton. “This year, in some cases, farmers just planted when they could and weren’t able to follow it as closely as they had hoped.”
In those situations, more crops could be ready at harvest than there is labor and machines to gather them.
When harvest time comes around, Thompson stresses that Group 3 varieties should not sit out in the field too long. “The Group 3s don’t do as well as the Group 5s did on shattering losses. The varieties that we plant today don’t shatter as badly as varieties of seven or eight years ago, but they will if they’re not taken when they’re ready.”
Thompson said producers who pay attention to the marketing side of the business have been locking in great soybean prices. On the other hand, “input costs have been so high this year for those who put out P and K fertilizer and paid twice as much as they did two years ago. So margins are not quite as wide as they would like to see.”
Tennessee growers don’t usually balk at applying a fungicide to certain soybean varieties, noted Thompson. That’s because Melvin Newman, plant pathologist at the University of Tennessee Experiment Station in Jackson, has been screening soybean varieties for response to fungicide applications under different levels of disease.
“He identifies the varieties that respond to fungicides even under pressure that is not always that strong. The information helps us pick which varieties to spray and which ones to leave alone, along with looking at disease conditions in the field and weather,” Thompson said.