LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The big rains that began during the last week of April have yet to depart the Delta, Extension specialists say.

“We were well ahead of schedule with planting,” says Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension corn/wheat specialist, of the 2004 corn crop. “We had warm weather and got a good start. Then it cooled off a little and the rains arrived.”

Kelly suspects that north of I-40 is where most of the rain has fallen. “There’s a lot of corn in the northern half of the state that has just been sitting a while. It’s small and needs warm, dry weather.”

South of I-40, things are often markedly different.

“There’s a big disparity within the state. From Ashley County to Lafayette and Miller counties, the corn looks really nice. I was around Texarkana last week and there was some early-planted corn there almost head-high. They’ve had warmer temperatures and smaller rains – enough to get the crop up nicely, but not flood anything.”

Tennessee producers are “pretty much” done with corn planting, says Angela Thompson, corn and soybean specialist. “We’ve had trouble in some areas that have gotten steady rain for a while. Last week, we had some producers looking to replant because of stand loss and some Pythium showing up. Where atrazine was used, they’ll replant corn. Otherwise, they’ll replant with soybeans.”

Thompson hopes to have reached the end of the spring rainy period. “We need this week (the week of May 17) to dry out. We’ve got producers who’ve been trying to plant soybeans for the last two weeks. But wet fields have kept them from doing that. Last week, we had a total of around 4 inches of rain in some areas, which isn’t a huge total. What has happened, though, is the rain has been fairly constant – showers regularly that don’t allow the soils to dry out.”

Erick Larson says few Mississippi producers are complaining about too much rain. The state Extension corn/wheat specialist says “most of our crop needed a rain. We’d even started some irrigation the week before the rains came so the moisture was well-timed.

“Overall, we’re in very good shape with relatively few problems this spring. We got the crop planted in a very timely fashion with very few stand problems. Insects haven’t been much of a bother. Our corn is anywhere from a foot tall to 5 feet.”

The biggest problems Mississippi has seen so far involve early-season fertility deficiencies. Those pop up every year, though, says Larson. “If that’s the only problem, we’ll take it.”

Mississippi’s wheat, “for the most part” looks good. “We haven’t had the same amount of disease development as Arkansas has had. It’ll be very interesting to see what the glyphosate drift we had back in March affects our overall yield potential. A lot of people will be watching to see that. Fields are yellowing up nicely. We’re probably 10 days away from first harvest beginning.”

Back in Arkansas, the wheat crop needs some sunshine and warmth. Kelley says during the last 10 days many fields are beginning to yellow. “There are quite a few fields below I-40 that, if given a week of sunshine, would be ready for harvest.”

The week of May 10, several Tennessee fields were visited by an insect normally not encountered much: billbugs.

“They look sort of like a large weevil and showed up in our corn,” says Thompson. “They will puncture the stem of young corn plants and that, in turn, will cause the plant tops to die. Last week, a field in Gibson County was being considered for treatment.”

Thompson says there isn’t an established threshold for billbugs. “If 3 to 5 percent of plants in a field are showing billbug damage, we consider treatment.”

Thompson says she’s also hearing of sugar cane beetle showing up. “We began seeing plant damage and finding live beetles in fields last week. They aren’t really heavy in fields we’ve checked so I’m not sure they’ll be as severe as last year. But we’re watching them closely.”

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com