Most Arkansas corn farmers have plenty to smile about this year. They are well into harvesting what's expected to be a high-quality, near-record 310,000-acre corn crop. Prices are also better than at this time last year.
Jeremy Ross of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service believes the statewide average yield will be close to last year's record 145-bushel-an-acre average.
Ross, Extension corn and grain sorghum verification program coordinator, said verification fields in Jackson, Poinsett, Prairie and St. Francis counties cut more than 200 bushels an acre. He said cooperating farmers in the program benefited from Extension's research-based crop management recommendations, including irrigation.
He credited rains, which began at the end of June and lasted through the middle of July, with giving the crop a much-needed boost at the right time. Irrigation helped the rest of the year.
“I'd say at least 80 percent of the corn crop is irrigated,” Ross said. “With irrigated corn, you can typically produce 30 to 40 bushels more an acre than with non-irrigated corn. The extra yield more than makes up for the added expense. Typically, in Arkansas we have dry summers.”
It's also risky to raise corn without irrigation because it can increase the chance for disease problems.
Ross said some of the top yields in the state this year are on a par with some of the better yields in the Corn Belt of the Midwest. He said the Midwest usually has a climate advantage.
The average price for corn, Ross said, is about $2.90 bushel. “Last year, we were lucky to get $2.25.” He said the Midwest has had weather problems this year, so prices could go even higher.
Farmers who grew corn this year were glad they did, noted Ross. “I've had several farmers say they're going to increase their acreage next year. One farmer is talking about going from 700 acres to 2,500.”
A considerable amount of Arkansas corn ends up as chicken feed in the state, but some goes to Memphis where it is shipped by barge to the Gulf Coast, then to other countries.
If there are any negatives this year, Ross said, it would be the appearance of insects. Several verification fields had southwestern and European cornborers in non-Bt hybrids. They came in late in the season, but they really didn't cause much economic damage.
“However, if the stubble isn't disked up this fall, the insects could overwinter and cause a bigger problem next year. The best preventative measure for both species is to plant Bt hybrids,” advises Ross.
Meanwhile, farmers are also harvesting what could be a record-breaking 270,000-acre grain sorghum crop, according to Ross.
He said the Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service is predicting the crop will produce a record statewide average yield of 87 bushels an acre.
As it did for corn, irrigation and timely rain paid off, said Ross. And like corn, sorghum prices are strong.
He said sorghum farmers early on had problems with insects, especially with chinch bugs. Some fields that should have been sprayed weren't, and they probably suffered yield losses as a result.
“Later on, we had quite a bit of corn earworm and sorghum webworm infestations in grain sorghum. Some later-planted sorghum had midge damage.”
Fortunately for farmers, there were few disease problems in corn and sorghum.
Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.