“We’re getting into later soybeans and are seeing some tremendous yields. But our earlier crop really took it on the chin and will drag the overall picture down tremendously,” says Alan Blaine, Mississippi Extension soybean specialist.

Mississippi’s crop report from August to September went up 4 bushels per acre. There’s truth in those numbers, says Blaine.

“In my opinion, we had the potential for the greatest soybean crop Mississippi has ever had,” he noted. “But we got 15 days of rainy, overcast weather that coincided with the final maturity push for much of the crop. That caused the crop to go downhill fast.

“The bright spot is that the beans coming in now are showing very nice yields – 40 to 60 bushels dryland. That’ll help our average but there are many areas of the state where we rolled the dice, went heavy in Group 4s and it cost us.”

As in Mississippi, the Arkansas crop is a mixed bag and has seen its share of odd problems. Chief among those problems is the nematode, which Lannie Ashlock, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist, has addressed throughout the season.

“The nematode in Arkansas continues to be hot even as we approach harvest and maturity. We keep getting reports on new fields affected by nematodes, so we think the problem may be more widespread than we first suspected,” says Ashlock.

Related to this, there are two researchers/nematologists in Arkansas working very hard to determine what races are hurting the crop. Samples show the predominant troubles originating from Race 2 and 5. But samples are also picking up Race 1, 10, and 6.

“To my knowledge, we’ve yet to see any Race 3 or 14. Those are the ones that many seed companies claim their varieties have resistance to. We’ve grown the same soybeans for so many years it appears that we’ve put selection pressure on these new races. That was our suspicion all along but the nematode analyses is confirming it.”

For many of these races there aren’t a lot of varieties with good resistance. Ashlock and colleagues are now trying to get an educational program in place for 2002.

“If a grower has these races in his fields, our position will likely be to strongly consider other crops that help control the nematodes. I was asked by a grower if I thought corn and sorghum acreage might increase as a result of nematode findings. I do think there will be more of those two crops along with rice.”

While nematodes are only one of several problems that developed in Arkansas’s soybeans crop, Ashlock says, “We still have a decent crop. Our beans that growers were able to manage closely are okay. We’re closing on 40 percent harvested in the state. We’re cutting Group 4s in northern Arkansas and Group 5s in the southern part of the state. We’re seeing a lot of 50 and 60-bushel yields. That isn’t bad at all and should calm a lot of fears.”

Blaine says he’s hearing a lot of statements from farmers that concern him.

“I hate to say it, but many folks are working off emotion,” he says. “Make no mistake about it: what’s happened this year is terrible. But I keep hearing, ‘I’m never planting Group 4s again. I’m never planting early again.’ The thing is, I can take those folks to growers who planted Group 3s that were harvested before the rainy weather hit. Their yields were great.”

It isn’t an early planting problem or a maturity group problem, says Blaine. What Mississippi got “hooked into” was that 50 percent of the crop was maturing or nearing maturity when the heavy rains and cloud cover settled in. The amount of damage on that 50 percent varied anywhere from slight to 100 percent abandonment.

Blaine says damage is variable and throughout the state, although it’s generally confined to the lower two-thirds of Mississippi.

“We’ve got a backlog at the elevators because growers were dumping so many crops at the same time. There was a bunch of damaged beans coming in with high moisture levels that wouldn’t come down. Some of the beans had reached a state of deterioration that can’t be remedied.

“The elevators wanted some good soybeans to blend with the damaged ones. That bogged things down for a while because for a long time there weren’t any good beans being delivered. That’s changing now, though, and should mean the elevators will be able to move beans through faster,” says Blaine.

Insects, particularly stinkbugs, hurt soybean crops across the Delta.

“Growers have spent a lot of money to control pests. The stinkbug was a persistent nuisance and we’re still talking about it,” says Ashlock. “Even as late as last week there were plenty of stinkbugs in plenty of fields. It was a close call on whether or not to treat. I suspect some fields were treated.”

Ashlock is seeing problems now that stinkbugs were the start of back in early summer. “There are fields with very poor pod-set that don’t want to go on and mature. Some of the blame for that must be laid at the feet of the stinkbug. He’s been a real problem child in Arkansas.”

Regarding stinkbug numbers, it’s hard to imagine next year being any better, says Ashlock. “Maybe we’ll get a very hard winter and get rid of some. It’s doubtful we’ll get such a winter, though. It’d take a blizzard, I think.”

Blaine agrees and says “anybody surprised by stinkbugs this year hasn’t been paying attention. I’ve been saying for three years that stinkbugs were marching our way. All the signs were there: mild winters, lack of rainfall along with numbers of the pest building and spreading.

“Mark it down, stinkbugs will be back next year too. A hard winter would help, but to be honest I don’t think it can get cold enough. At the numbers we’ve currently got, there will be plenty that survive this coming winter,” says Blaine.

Phomopsis is a disease that causes seed deterioration and, like aflatoxin, is always present in soybean fields. And just like aflatoxin, certain conditions make it worse. In Mississippi, leading up to Labor Day some fields got 14 to 20 inches of rain, heavy dews, fog, cloud cover and the crop was wet for a long time. Apparently, the rain wasn’t necessary for phomopsis, just the other conditions, says Blaine.

“That’s my belief because there are growers with this problem north of Highway 6 that only got several inches of rain. They had the other conditions, though, and that’s why I think this.”

At Arkansas elevators there has been plenty of dockage for insect damage. In southeast Arkansas, Ashlock says farmers are seeing problems associated with phomopsis. In some cases, Ashlock believes phomopsis may have been enhanced because of stinkbug pressures.

Ashlock says boron problems have also been found in the state.

“It’s relatively new, although I’ve seen it on occasion before in the Fair Oaks area. I thought other things might be contributing to the symptoms I was seeing.

“This year, however, we got into a lot more of the problem in east Woodruff County, Cross County and west Poinsett County. Several soil scientists are convinced the plant tissue and soil itself are low in boron. This is contributing to the terminal die-back we’re seeing.

“We’re also seeing aerial blight emerge. We finally got some rains in southeast Arkansas – maybe too much rain. Those rains have contributed to aerial blight not only in that part of the state but also around Corning. We’ve seen significant aerial blight which has contributed to further delaying maturity of soybean plants,” says Ashlock.

Following the extended period of wet conditions, Blaine did some digging in weather records. It turns out Mississippi received the most rain it’s ever had in August. The last time the state had similar conditions – overcast, no sun for an extended period – was in 1957. Blaine points out farmers weren’t growing a lot of early crops then.

“Growers who are really jittery need to focus on that. If they want to jump back to growing Group 6s, have at it. But keep in mind; if we’d had a bunch of Group 6s last year, they’d have burned up. Only 25 percent of our acreage is irrigated.

“This year, we planted a lot of irrigated soybeans early to eliminate pumping early and insect control costs on the tail end. That works. But we had so much of the crop ready at one time – the wrong time it turns out – that everyone needs to rethink his situation. If you’re growing a lot of corn and rice, you probably don’t want to grow a lot of Group 4s unless you’ve got a way to get them out quick. I continue to contend that dryland Group 4 soybeans are the best gig in town.”

In essence, the Delta experienced an extended hurricane with no wind, says Blaine.

“Louisiana has already declared a disaster. Mississippi, Arkansas and portions of Texas are in the same damaged boat. We ought to be in there declaring a disaster too. There will be some growers unable to farm next year without help,” he noted.

“This is worse than anything I’ve ever seen. I admit the current military struggle overshadows our situation here. But my hope is that in this time the need to keep our farms and food safe is impressed upon the nation’s leaders.”

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com