Glyphosate-resistance soybeans enabled Todd Allen to expand his soybean production. But conventional beans are making a strong return to his rotation along the Mississippi River bank.
Allen farms near West Memphis, Ark., with his son, John, and constantly battles a rising river that regularly leaps his levees when northern rains send water toward the Delta. It’s on land known as “Island 40.” He and his wife, Lynn, have often worked with the regional congressmen to obtain better management of rivers and reservoirs “upstream.”
As a member of the United Soybean Board, he is naturally sold on soybeans as a major cash crop and makes soybeans No. 1 on his operation. However, managing his crop rotation has seen him change course.
“We have a soybean-corn rotation and also double-crop beans with wheat on irrigated land,” says Allen. “That rotation has helped with our weed control. But we’re seeing some weed resistance situations that are making us change our soybean variety selection.”
Allen grows soybean varieties in the Group 4.4 to Group 5.2 range. He plants both no-till with a drill and with a conventional row planter on 30-inch rows. “The earlier-maturing varieties can help some with controlling late-season weeds,” he says. “But we still have to deal with weed resistance by going with more conventional varieties and fewer Roundup Ready varieties.
“We are now 50-50 with conventional and Roundup Ready varieties. We had been 75 percent Roundup Ready. But marestail and pigweed control became too difficult. We were seeing too much weed resistance. We’re now using some conventional varieties out of the University of Arkansas that are performing well.”
He is countering some glyphosate resistance by starting with a clean seedbed, then coming back with a pre-emergence herbicide. “We either come back with a 2 ounce application of Valor or a quart of Prefix,” says Allen. “Then we hope for a rain to get them activated. We’ve seen good results, but you can still see a field get away from you. You hope one or two applications of glyphosate will handle it.”
Weeds aren’t near the problem in his corn production, where he depends on an old trusty standby, atrazine. “It’s a good pre-emergence herbicide for us and helps clean up the fields to rotate into soybeans,” he says.
Fungicides are regular for his soybean program, whether he faces problems with soybean rust or not. “My experience has shown that a fungicide applied early will usually lead to a better crop,” he says, adding that soybeans yields are in the 45-50 bushel range.
“When I first used Quadris, I had six test fields and a check field. All with Quadris performed better. The University of Arkansas usually doesn’t recommend applying a fungicide unless you have disease problems. But they improve our crop. And I build fungicide applications into my budget.”
When rust was threatening a wide swath of Arkansas soybean acres last fall, he didn’t make late-season applications because the fungus wasn’t detected on his farms. But the early applications gave him protection against other diseases that could have struck.
He notes that he faces few insect problems with soybeans. He counts on Bt corn varieties to handle bug pressure on corn.
Allen takes advantage of services provided by the USB, such as market updates via his cell phone. “I get market updates three times a day,” he says, “and other growers can also receive them by signing up for the service (at www.soyconnection.com).”
He markets most of his soybeans through Riceland in West Memphis and Cargill or Bunge in Memphis. “Being on the river, our soybean basis is usually pretty good, about 20 cents under,” he says, adding that he enjoys solid corn markets in his location. Wheat is also marketed along river markets.
But his location, with some fields overlooking the Mississippi River, can cause a flood of headaches when the water’s up. “When we see flooding in northern states, we know it’s coming down the river,” says Allen. “The real problems can start early in the year when the snow melts and they get 2 to 3 inches of rain on top of it. We see some major flooding then.”
Several years ago saw his wife, Lynn, begin a charge to limit water gushing out of dams in Kentucky, water that only added to the problem. “I was redirected to at least 10 people at the Corps of Engineers in Memphis,” she says. “No one had an answer. I finally learned that the jump in the river levels was being caused by the opening of flood gates at Lake Barkley Dam and Kentucky Dam in western Kentucky.”
Lakes in that area were developed for regional flood control, to generate electricity and for recreation. Those waters wound up in the Ohio River, much of which feeds into the Mississippi. “About 60 percent of the Mississippi River comes from the Ohio (river),” notes Allen.
Lynn’s goal was to stop the flooding from happening, or to at least obtain warning of flood waters far enough in advance for disaster planning. She contacted her Arkansas congressman and kept leaning on the Corps of Engineers. She eventually was able to set up meetings with the agency’s officials.
Her persistence helped lead to a system in which the region was notified when water was released from the dams, water that would reach their farms eventually.
“We know that if plants are underwater more than 24 hours, we feel they’re stunted too much to recover,” says Allen. “Even after the waters subside, the soil is still saturated for another week. The plants will usually die from lack of oxygen to the soil. But with better communication, we can be prepared for such situations.”
Flooding was a problem for the Allens this spring, like it was for many in the region. “It’s been a year where we had to work in spurts,” says Allen. “We lost part of our beans, part of our corn and part of our few acres of wheat. That was after we received 8 inches of rain after a lot of the water that flooded Nashville and other parts of Tennessee flowed into the Mississippi.
“We replanted beans on all fields that were flooded out. We’ll make it work. We always do.”