In late February through early March, friendly conditions in the Mid-South meant corn planting was moving at a brisk pace. Then, a series of weather systems swept across the region dumping major rains.
How are things looking now?
“It’s a shame because we were really off to a tremendous start planting corn all over the state,” says Dan Fromme, LSU AgCenter corn specialist. “We had a lot planted the last week of February through the first week of March. Then, around March 8 through March 18, the rain set in and stymied our progress. Some places had in excess of 20 inches of rain. That shut us down until some planters started rolling again (the week of March 21).”
Prior to the rain, Fromme estimates some 25 to 35 percent of the corn acreage had been planted in Louisiana. “Counties closer to the Arkansas line – north of I-20 – were really flooded out and will have to be replanted. For a lot of those fields, there’s not really an option outside that. Depending on when the water backs off those fields, some may be going to soybeans.”
In Arkansas, “Corn planting is going hot and heavy in some parts of the state with other parts still drying out,” says Jason Kelley, state Extension grain specialist. “Before those massive rains in mid-March we really hadn’t planted too much corn – maybe 10,000 acres, mostly in southeast Arkansas. In hindsight, that was obviously a good thing. I’m guessing that a vast majority of those early-planted acres will have to be replanted.
“Since then, with the drying weather, planters are running hard in areas. Other spots remain too wet. Then, there are areas that are dry but the soil temperatures are still pretty chilly. Of course, there are some rain events forecast in coming days so producers are wanting to push planting.”
In Mississippi, “the water has largely subsided from the major rains we had,” says Erick Larson, Mississippi State University corn specialist. “There are still pockets of flooding, though. It wasn’t just the amount of rain but the flooding and prolonged soil saturation impacted our planted corn, obviously. Once the corn seed begins to germinate, the seedlings become more vulnerable to extended soil saturation and corresponding anaerobic conditions.
“We didn’t have the extensive planting that Louisiana did when the rain hit. But in the days preceding those weather systems, there were some growers that planted a lot of corn. Some growers had over 1,000 acres planted.”
Soils in Mississippi “are compacted from heavy rain and crusting over as they dry out. Plus, over the last few days, we’ve had cool conditions that haven’t slowed seedling growth. That’s slowed down the process of stand evaluation and development. It’s very difficult to properly evaluate stands under these circumstances.
“We know there will be stand issues. We’re likely to see seedling mortality, and seedling emergence variability. It’ll be a challenge to overcome such adverse conditions and make appropriate management decisions, including replanting.”
After looking at several fields early this week, Larson is “relatively optimistic we’ll retain some successful stands even after those rains. But there are still a lot of fields to walk and decisions to be made.”
Back in Louisiana, Fromme says many of the cornfields that weren’t flooded “have done alright. The crop has come up and doesn’t look bad.
“Compared to 2014 and 2015, February and March of this year have been totally opposite from a temperature standpoint. It’s been very warm and, if that rain hadn’t hit, we might have already been through planting corn. Growers want fast emergence and to get out of the gates quick – and until the rain that’s what they were getting.”
If the weather holds, Fromme expects all Louisiana corn – “outside the fields that are still underwater” -- to be planted by mid-April. “We just need two good weeks to finish things up.”
Asked for key advice for farmers going back into the field, Kelley points to several things.
“One, once you get the water off the ground that’s already been planted you’ve got to evaluate the situation well. The big thing, if you have to replant, is to do it properly. The last thing you want is two stands of corn in the same field. Make sure to kill that first stand. Most will do that through tillage or a herbicide because not doing so means the corn will emerge erratically.
“Second, there are areas of Arkansas – never mind Louisiana and Mississippi – that received 20 inches of rain. You can imagine what that could have done to the beds. A lot of beds melted down and a lot of growers are going to be re-bedding and doing the tillage if they need to take out the first planting. I’ve seen beds that are now flat and look like they won’t do well if they’re going to be used for furrow irrigation later in the season.”
Larson also cautions growers about the importance of properly terminating a failed stand. “Your flexibility with cropping options are limited once certain herbicides have been applied. Bottom line is there are some very important decisions to be made over the next few days as the corn emerges. Does it need to be terminated? What options are available?”
The main thing: don’t be in a great rush to plant. “There’s still plenty of time to plant corn,” says Larson. “We’re not even into April yet and corn can be planted in most regions of Mississippi well into April without any significant potential yield loss. I know lots of folks are antsy because the past three years have been historically challenging, particularly for corn planting. During the past few years, it seemed to rain continuously from March through April, restricting planting opportunities and challenging stand development.”
Kelley agrees. “There’s no need to feel great pressure to plant. We’re still within the optimum planting date period. Most of the hybrids we’re growing are well-adapted to the region. We’re probably planting 112- to 114-day hybrids and, barring any surprises, they’ll do very well.
“Don’t get in a big hurry. Soil temperatures are still cold in areas and that’s leading growers to hold off planting. I’m not opposed to that – no yield has been lost and we’re after a great stand not some magical planting date.”
The enthusiasm for corn “has come on since what I was hearing last fall, especially considering the prices,” says Kelley. “Of course, much of that is because the prices for other crops like soybean aren’t high. But I’m a bit surprised that planting intentions for corn in Arkansas are up probably 20 percent over 2015.”
Another issue some producers are dealing with is blackbirds.
“The blackbirds seem worse early during planting,” says Kelley. “That could be expected, I’d think, because there’s less food and the planters were running when it was still winter. Plant in early March and it can take two or three weeks for the crop to emerge – plenty of time for the birds to find that vulnerable seed. To help with that, some growers use the Avipel bird repellent seed treatment.
“Also, lots of times, when you’re planting so early, it’s in scattered fields. Once the birds find one, they just camp out on the buffet.”