Just as harvest was to begin in earnest, lingering mid-September rains settled over much of the Mid-South.
“This weather is doing us no favors,” says Randy Chlapecka, surveying soggy Jackson County fields in north-central Arkansas. “I'm told around 6 to 8 percent of the total rice crop has been harvested. Most years a bunch of growers would be done harvesting rice by now.”
Rivers in the area haven't left their banks, says the county Extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “Flooding isn't the problem. The problems have come from the everyday rains and high humidity. We had a couple of rainy days (the week of Sept. 7), but the (week of Sept. 14) is when the bottom fell out. It started raining on Sunday and has rained every day since.”
Some farms have gotten upwards of 10 inches of rain — most of that fell Monday through Wednesday. It's especially wet in southern Jackson County. By comparison, northern Jackson County “was spared — only 5 inches, or so, there. When you're happy to have gotten ‘only’ 5 inches of rain, that's saying something.”
Only a small amount of the county's rice has been knocked down. “Some has been ready for two weeks and farmers haven't been able to cut because of wet conditions. Now, there are some concerns about milling — you don't want dried-down rice to get rained on. Also, certain varieties have the potential to shatter in these conditions. And, the stalks will begin to deteriorate.
“Really, once the crop is ready for harvest, nothing good can happen if you're forced to wait. All our crops are suffering, to be honest.”
As of Sept. 14, the Mississippi soybean crop was 26 percent harvested. With all the rain, four days later, “we're still holding at 26 percent,” says Trey Koger, Mississippi Extension soybean specialist.
Before the rains, Mississippi producers were harvesting some “phenomenal yields. That was surprising in many cases. We thought it would be a pretty good crop but, in many cases, it has exceeded expectations.
“We've taken some damage from these rains, unfortunately. We won't know how much until we get back in the field. The good news is everything I've checked lately that looked promising prior to the rain looks surprisingly good even after. The thing that's helped, I think, is the weather has been cool and wet versus hot and wet.
“Of course, there were some poor quality beans out there before the rains. And those are even worse, now.”
In east Arkansas prolonged rains have left behind field conditions that are “nothing but ugly, ugly, ugly,” says Chuck Farr, a well-respected crop consultant based in Crawfordsville, Ark. “We've had 6 to 9 inches of rain since Sunday, beans are sprouting in the pods, corn is sprouting, cotton is hanging out of bolls or on the ground, and rice is flat. All that and we're looking at a forecast of 50 percent chance of rain for the next five days.”
Farr got “maybe 1 percent of the rice harvested before the rains hit.”
The good news, “if there is any,” is yields “we did get harvested were really good: rice in the 180-bushel range, soybeans in the 70-bushel range. We've still got 80 percent of our corn in the field.”
Speaking of Arkansas corn, Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension corn specialist, has just walked out of a waterlogged cornfield in the central part of the state. While rains have let up, ominous thunderclouds still rumble across the sky.
“It needs to dry up fast — it needed to dry up a week ago. For the most part, there hasn't been a lot of wind associated with the storms. That's good news — most of the corn I've seen is standing pretty well. That isn't to say the stalks aren't showing signs of weakness.”
Statewide, the corn harvest is estimated at two-thirds complete. But Kelley says even before the latest rains, the corn wouldn't dry down.
“Producers without bins and dryers are especially vulnerable. They were waiting for moisture content to hit 15 to 17 percent and, in many cases, it has never gotten there. Nothing good can happen with this weather — it's kind of bizarre. Look at what's happened: an early ice storm, non-stop rains the first half of May and, now, this late-season system.
“The big concern right now is the grain quality. All this rain on corn — especially on hybrids with a loose shuck and upright ear — is causing trouble. A lot of that grain has sprouted in tips of ears and, in some cases, even where the tip is okay, there is sprouting at the bottom. What's happening now is really similar to what happened last fall after the hurricane.”
Yields of Arkansas' harvested corn have been highly variable.
“The earliest-planted corn on ground that doesn't drain well had lower yields. If you planted at the end of April, say, the yields have been better. I've heard of corn with pollination problems that yielded 50 bushels. On the opposite end, there has been 220- to 230-bushel corn.”
Kelley is also “very worried” about the state's grain sorghum. “We've harvested less than half our grain sorghum. There's only about 30,000 acres of it, but it's in some trouble too. There are a lot of sprouting problems showing up.”
Sprouting is also showing up in Arkansas and Mississippi soybeans.
“I was at a ballgame yesterday and a farmer walked up to me holding a soybean that was sprouting,” says Chlapecka. “This was a new one for me: a green soybean pod sprouting. But since then I've heard this is happening elsewhere.”
Indeed, it is.
“A lot of pods are cracking, the seams are separating and the seed is being exposed,” says Koger. “Obviously, that's led to seed sprouting and rot. We're seeing a lot of beans sprouting in the pods — more this year than I've ever seen.”
While the seam-splitting is odd in the Mid-South, “after talking to some specialists on the East Coast, we're told they see this some years when there's a wide range of environmental stresses,” says Koger. “It particularly seems to show up when the crop goes through some dry conditions in early reproductive growth stages and then it becomes wet during late reproductive growth stages.”
“We're pretty much shut down — practically no one has been in the field this week,” Jeremy Ross, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist. “As of Monday (Sept. 14), the state was about 5 percent harvested. That's 13 percent behind where we should be at this time of year.”
Ross is also receiving many reports of green pods beginning to split, beans sprouting the pods, and seed decay.
“We're at a point in the game where there's nothing we can do but wait. If this weather system would move out, there probably wouldn't be much yield loss. If the rain doesn't quit, we're going to see more and more seed problems.”