Arkansas soybeans below average The Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service is forecasting that farmers in the state will harvest 3.4 million acres of soybeans with a statewide average yield of 26 bushels an acre. It's the third year in a row for sub-par yields.

Farmers had good years with 32 bushels in 1996 and 30.5 bushels in 1997. Then, yields dropped to 25 bushels in 1998 and 28 last year, due mainly to unusually dry summers. Dry weather was a factor again this year.

The years that farmers had good yields, they also had good prices, according to the statistics service. The Arkansas crop was valued at $824 million in 1996 and $755 million the next year. The value dropped off to $457 million and $464 million respectively in 1998 and 1999.

The statistics service rates 45 percent of this year's crop as poor to very poor. Prices are also poor.

"It will be good to put this year behind us. For many of our growers, this is three consecutive tough years," said Lanny Ashlock, soybean agronomist for the Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas.

Farmers have harvested early-maturing varieties and are beginning to harvest the later varieties, according to Ashlock.

"Seed size is going to be very small for the most part. That will affect yields," he said. "We'll have some good beans. I think yields will hold up pretty well in irrigated fields."

Ashlock said many farmers got their last significant rainfall at the end of June. Early-maturing varieties took advantage of that moisture.

"We went five or six weeks without any rain and that's where a lot of our Group Vs are gonna be hammered," Ashlock said. "There are a lot of good varieties in that group and we'll see how well they were able to use what moisture was in the soil. And those people who were able to irrigate those good varieties, they'll be rewarded for their efforts."

Ashlock recommended that farmers adjust their combines for dry seed. "In most cases," he said, "stalks are short so there's a tendency to harvest at a quick speed, but sometimes you just need to slow down and adjust so that you can get what beans are out there."

The Extension agronomist said farmers need to look to the future and put themselves in a position to bounce back next year.

He urged them to sample for nematodes and take soil samples to determine fertilizer and lime needs. It's also a good time for farmers to take water samples from wells before they shut everything down for the season.

Ashlock also suggested that farmers examine fields of immature beans for diseases that they are unfamiliar with and that appeared late. "If you can recognize it in 2000, when it's not a big problem, maybe we can prevent it from being a big problem in 2001."

October is usually a good month for farmers to level land and subsoil, or plow deeply to break up compacted soils. "They are major expenditures now, but they can pay off in the long run with higher yields."

Ashlock noted that many farmers intend to plant a larger wheat acreage in an attempt to get more cash flow in the spring.

He urged farmers to attend the Arkansas Soybean Research Conference, Dec. 14, at Jonesboro, Ark.; the Tri-State Soybean Forum, Jan. 5, at Tunica, Miss.; and the Southern Soybean Conference, Feb 2-3, which is also at Tunica.

Ashlock figures that many farmers will be seriously looking at their options over the winter and wondering about their future. He said most of them are optimistic even in the face of three tough years. "They'll try to weather this thing and get ready to go again."