Mississippi's 2002 soybean crop might best be described as the one that got away. The closer growers were to bringing in their crop, the better it looked, but 45 days of rain and dampness kept them from realizing what could have been a record-breaking yield.
“This was going to be the best crop we've ever had,” said Mississippi State University Extension soybean specialist Alan Blaine. “I have no doubt we were headed for a state average of 40 bushels an acre.” Mississippi's five-year average is 26.7 bushels an acre.
Just six weeks ago, with close to 50 percent of the crop harvested, Mississippi was leading the nation in harvest earliness, but two hurricanes and multiple rain fronts left few days suitable for harvest.
Since then, Mississippi producers advanced only about 25 percent closer to getting the state's 1.42 million acres of soybeans out of the fields.
By Nov. 4, the Mississippi Agricultural Statistics Service (MASS) reported 78 percent of the crop harvested compared to 94 percent at the same time in 2001.
“I have a real concern about what is left in the fields,” said Blaine. “A few growers got into the fields the last week of October. I heard reports from them of 70 to 90 percent discounts for poor quality, and I'm concerned that is going to be the norm when we do get back into the fields.”
The 2002 harvest is almost a repeat of last year's. In 2001, the rains came earlier, but the damage was still significant.
“The difference in this year and last year is the rains came earlier. The temperatures were hotter, and it was our Group 4s that were stranded in the fields. This year the rains came later. The temperatures have been cooler, and it's our Group 5s that are left in the fields. They've held up well, but they can't hold up forever,” said Blaine.
Blaine, who coordinates Mississippi's Soybean Management by the Application of Research and Technology (SMART) verification program, said they are still trying to harvest the remaining 15 percent of those fields.
“Early in the harvest we were seeing fields yielding in the high 60s and up to 70 bushels per acre,” said Blaine. “This was the kind of situation you wait your whole life for, but there is nothing anyone could have done about it. What we have to do now is stay focused and look to the future. We have to continue to control the things we know how to control. Our growers are doing all the right things. This failure is totally out of their control.”
Unharvested fields are scattered throughout the state with some sizeable clusters in the north Delta and northeast Mississippi.
Jimmy Sneed with Clifton Farms in DeSoto County, Miss., considers himself better off than some, but yet he's still struggling to get the last 10 percent of his 1,600-acre soybean crop harvested and get wheat planted.
“We've lost about 175 acres to flooding on the Arkabutla, but on what we have harvested, we have good yields relative to our soil type. In the hills we cut in the mid- to upper-30s, and on the bottom land we were averaging in the mid- to upper-40s,” he said.
About 65 percent of his crop was planted in Group 4s and the remainder was Group 5s.
“I don't know about quality when we go back to the field. I suspect the damage will be much higher and test weights very poor,” he said.
In Union County, also in north Mississippi, MSU Extension agent Stanley Wise, reported only about 50 percent of their county's crop harvested and the remainder in a state of rapid deterioration.
“Our losses to quality and yields could be 40 percent or greater,” said Wise.
Compounding the troubles of this year's muddled harvest will be fields throughout the state left in poor shape for spring planting.
“We have a lot of rutted fields. If we don't catch a dry spell before spring, it is going to have some major implications for next year's crop,” said Blaine. “Growers will be forced to plant some beans later than we like to plant them. The positive implications of early planting are very real and are one of the major components of higher yields for Mississippi growers. If we can't get the fields ready and plant early next year, it will have negative implications for our 2003 yields.”
Another concern is that growers will not be able to make fall burndown applications and, due to a shortage of time and money, will use fewer chemical burndowns next spring.
“I predict a tremendous reduction in the use of spring burndowns,” said Blaine.
Harvesting delays and poor field conditions are putting the state's wheat crop behind schedule as well. By Nov. 4, only 31 percent of the state's wheat crop was in the ground, compared to 68 percent in 2001.
Eva Ann Dorris is an ag journalist and from Pontotoc, Miss. She can be reached at 662-419-9176 or [email protected].