Just as Mid-South farmers find themselves in somewhat of a holding pattern as they wait on a lagging cotton crop to mature, USDA's latest crop projections also reflects a “wait and see attitude” for Mid-South crops.

USDA's September projections of harvested acres remains similar and in most cases unchanged from its Aug. 1 report, but some yield estimates were adjusted marginally and most yield projections fall short of 2003 yields.

With a later-than-normal cotton crop and defoliation just getting into full swing by mid-September, cotton yields have the most probability of error.

It appears the damage to Mid-South crops from Hurricane Ivan was limited to the extreme eastern and northern areas of Mississippi where late-maturing soybeans and a limited acreage of unharvested corn were damaged by rains of 4 to 6 inches and wind gusts of 70 miles per hour. Cotton in the area, most of which had not been defoliated, may have suffered some lint loss, but by Sept. 17, it was too early to determine the extent of the damage.

Cotton

The Arkansas cotton crop is expected to yield 903 pounds an acre, up 26 pounds of lint from Aug. 1 and just 13 pounds shy of 2003 yields. Tennessee's projected yield fell 6 pounds from the Aug. 1 report to 827 pounds an acre. The Missouri Bootheel is expected to yield 823 pounds an acre, down 26 pounds from Aug. 1. Mississippi's yield is estimated at 800 pounds. Louisiana lags behind other Mid-South states with a projected yield of 637 pounds of lint per acre.

MSU Extension cotton specialist Tom Barber pegs Mississippi's cotton harvest closer to 700 pounds an acre than 800 pounds.

“Low yields are due to extensive boll shed we saw at the first of August. We still have a lot of good cotton, but we have a lot of bad as well. We will need good harvest weather,” says Barber.

Charlie Stokes, MSU-Extension area agronomist for the eastern counties of Mississippi, says some cotton is on the ground after Ivan passed through the area. “But, it's not very bad. The most damage was done to the defoliated cotton that was close to being ready to pick. That cotton strung out of the locks fairly easy. The later cotton with around 50 percent open bolls was not hurt badly at all.”

Tennessee cotton specialist Chism Craig says, “There's a lot of poor-mouthing going on right now, but I think we have an average crop. Some cotton will go 1,000 pounds to the acre. I always estimate low and hope for the best.”

In Louisiana, cotton specialist Sandy Stewart calls the yield projections for cotton iffy. “A lot of our yields will depend on how favorable September is to our later cotton. So far, weather conditions have been excellent, but we are not yet halfway through September,” says Stewart. “I hope 637 pounds is not too optimistic, but time will tell. Some yield reports of picked cotton are generally lower than expected, but all of that is anecdotal right now because most gins are not running. We should be ginning by Sept. 17 or so.”

Mid-South corn

Mid-South corn harvest races to completion, and yield projections range from 135 bushels an acre in Louisiana to 144 bushels an acre in Missouri. Yields in Arkansas and Tennessee are projected at 140 bushels an acre, while Mississippi's harvest is down 4 bushels from the August projection to 136 bushels an acre.

MSU Extension grains specialist Erick Larson believes even though 87 percent of the state's corn crop was harvested before Ivan came through, the majority of the remaining 13 percent is in north Mississippi, where the remnants of Ivan brought heavy rains and high winds.

“I had 4.5 inches in my rain gauge just south of Starkville, Miss., and I heard the MSU meteorology folks clocked 64 mile-per-hour winds,” says Larson. “Any unharvested corn in the swath from Starkville to northeast of Tupelo, Miss., is most likely not standing as well as it was just a few days ago. The corn in this area likely has moderate to severe lodging problems. If this lodging is severe, it slows harvest to a crawl and increases harvest loss.”

Jason Kelley, Larson's counterpart with the Arkansas Extension Service, was expecting a good corn crop earlier in the season. “I would have said the 140-bushels-an-acre statewide average was right back in early July. However, we had southern rust hit pretty hard late in the season along with other foliar diseases. These foliar diseases combined with excessive rainfall contributed to a stalk rot problem in many corn fields at harvest,” says Kelley.

“Those diseases and stalk rots appear to have reduced yield about 20 bushels an acre overall compared to what most producers thought they would have,” says Kelley. “Therefore, I think 140 bushels an acre for the state average is too high. I would not be surprised if it ends up being 10 to 20 bushels below the current estimate.”

In Tennessee, Angela Thompson, small grains agronomist, believes the corn estimate is overly optimistic as well. “The acres to harvest sounds about right for both corn and soybeans,” she says. “The final harvested average of 140 bushels an acre for corn is too high. Our yields of March- and early April-planted corn are excellent right now, but our later-planted corn had problems getting a stand and experienced more diseases later in the summer. Tennessee probably will not average more than 132 bushels an acre.”

Early beans

Soybean harvest for the most part is slightly ahead of normal due to an increase in Group 4 soybeans planted throughout the Mid-South. Thousands of acres of soybeans were cut in August, but many acres of later-maturing beans are still in the fields. Agronomists say final soybean yields will depend on getting those late beans harvested before the first frost.

As of Sept. 1, Mid-South soybean yields were projected at 39 bushels an acre for Arkansas, 31 bushels for Louisiana, 37 bushels for Mississippi, 38 bushels for Missouri and 39 bushels for Tennessee.

With Arkansas leading the way in estimated soybean yields, Extension agronomist Chris Tingle says if harvest continues at the pace of the past few weeks, “I have no doubt about those estimates. Our early crop is one of the best in history. We are consistently hearing of 50- to 60-bushel averages. “Unfortunately, I think we will begin to see the averages fall off for the rest of the crop. We should begin to move into our late April and early May-planted Group 5s that are on the bulk of our 3 million acres.”

Kelley says unseasonably high amounts of rainfall in early May coupled with high winds delayed many herbicide applications. “Since 92 percent of our crop is Roundup Ready soybeans, many producers have foregone pre-emergence herbicides,” he says. “In addition to the stress from standing water in fields, we went through a great deal of early-season weed competition. That's the beauty of a herbicide like glyphosate. We were able to clean the fields up later with only minimal problems, but we may have already lost some yield.

“I sure hope I am wrong. If we could average 39 bushels across the state, it would give our producers another chance to pay off some debt and keep farming at least for another year. It's tough financially for a number of our producers right now. We sure could use high yields to offset low prices.”

David Lanclos, soybean agronomist with the LSU Ag Center, agrees with USDA's latest projections of Louisiana's soybean yields, saying there are a good many late beans still in the field. However, Louisiana growers planted a record 230,000 acres of early-maturing Group 4 varieties, and for the most part harvested those in August.

“I think when it's all said and done, our state average will be in the range of 30 to 32 bushels an acre, which is in line with USDA,” he says.

MSU Extension soybean specialist Alan Blaine thinks USDA's numbers are too low. He anticipates state yields to be several bushels an acre higher than projections. “I think the number is low. We planted 83 percent of our crop by mid-May. This was the earliest crop ever,” he says. Blaine estimates 55 to 60 percent of Mississippi's soybean crop was harvested by Sept. 10.

“The yields, although varied, are better than most ever dreamed,” says Blaine. “I feel we will exceed last year's yield of 39 bushels an acre. I think we can go 40 to 41 bushels at least.”

Blaine adds that a limited acreage of soybeans may have been damaged by Ivan. “Much of the area affected was dry and appears to have handled the rain, but a small amount of flash flooding did occur,” says Blaine. “The biggest concern was wind damage; however, most of the crop in this area was not as far along as in the Delta and was in a better position to handle this type of weather. Areas south of Meridian, Miss., were at greater risk, but acreage in this area is limited.”

Thompson says early beans in Tennessee also produced some good yields, averaging more than 50 bushels an acre. “But, because of the rain and slow wheat harvest, we planted about 20 percent of our soybean acreage late to very late, and those acres may not all mature before frost,” she adds.

Rice yields

Rice yields in Mid-South states are averaging close to yields of last year, with Mississippi expected to harvest the highest yields at 6,900 pounds per acre, up 200 pounds from USDA's Aug. 1 projection. Arkansas yields remained unchanged at 6,650 pounds an acre. Missouri is projected to harvest 6,350 pounds an acre, and Louisiana 5,300 pounds an acre, down 300 pounds from earlier reports.

“The state statistics service says Mississippi planted 235,000 acres, but will only harvest 233,000 acres,” says MSU Extension rice specialist Nathan Buehring. “Those statistics are very close to ours. If Mississippi yields 6,900 pounds (153 bushels an acre), that will be a state record.

“Last year the state averaged 6,800 pounds,” says Buehring. “A lot of producers are now selling rice from their bins, so I don't have any hard numbers. Most of the yields I have seen are from yield monitors. I feel we will be close to last year's state average. The cooler weather in August delayed some harvesting, but I think it increased yields slightly. That is probably the reason for a 200-pound increase.”

The day after Hurricane Ivan passed through parts of Mississippi, Buehring reported no crop damage in the Mississippi Delta region. “We had some above-normal winds, but little to no down rice as a result,” he says. “About 75 percent of the rice acres in Mississippi will be harvested by the end of the week.”


Eva Ann Dorris is an ag journalist from Pontotoc, Miss. She can be reached at 662-419-9176 or eadorris@aol.com.