The soybean field just east of McGehee, Ark., is extremely pod-heavy and nearing completion. If he holds off, Matt Miles worries that a wet forecast -- certainly not uncommon during the 2014 growing season – might hurt the field’s chances of breaking 100 bushels in the state’s yield contest.
The big question: should he go ahead and bring in the combine?
While Miles and consultant Robb Dedman consider doing just that, Lanny Ashlock and Brad Doyle are waist-deep in the Pioneer 45T11 variety, plucking pods and admiring the view. “These look really good,” says Doyle, president of the Arkansas Soybean Association. “These look great,” replies Ashlock, with Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board (ASPB) outreach.
That wasn’t the case early in the cropping season.
“2014 started out almost the mirror image of 2013,” says Miles, who harvested a bin-busting 107.63-bushel contest field last year. “We planted and it got very cold. There was heavy damage to the plants because of residual chemicals.”
Other than the abundant rainfall through the summer, “it was close to the same scenario as last year. It was a bit cooler, as well. We had nighttime temperatures necessary for high-yielding beans.”
Dedman believes there was more early-season stress than last year. “With the rains, we had cooler temperatures that held the crop back. The first field planted was followed by a night that was 38 degrees. Nighttime lows gave us some fits this year. It was the coldest July in history.”
In several fields, says Miles, full emergence took three weeks.
“Crazy things can happen in a bean crop,” says Dedman. “Early on, I told Matt, ‘we don’t have the bean crop we had (in 2013).’ Then, one day, it just flipped and we had one heck of a bean crop. It took it a while to get up and going.”
Counting wheat-beans, Miles -- who farms with wife Sherrie Kay and son Layne -- has a total of around 4,000 bean acres. And he says Desha County is full of fine bean fields. “In this area, everyone who is trying and is timely is probably making 60-plus bushels per acre -- somewhere between 60 and 90 bushels.
“Desha County is blessed with great soils and great farmers that produce very high yields. When the county was mostly in cotton, I believe it was the highest-yielding in Staple cotton. There’s a lot of competition between farmers and much of that is driven because of land. If (you’re a landowner) and one guy is making 50 bushels and his neighbor is making 75 bushels, the landowner is eventually going to say, ‘I’m getting share-rent and I want to go with the higher yield.’”
Even dryland beans are fantastic.
“Normally, there’s no comparison between dryland and irrigated yields,” says Miles. “My dryland -- maybe 100 acres of the absolute worst ground I have -- usually pulls 15 to 25 bushels.” Because of the plentiful rains, “this year, there really are no dryland beans or corn. I may be wrong, but this year I don’t know that there will be 10 bushels difference” between dryland and irrigated bean yields.
What will hurt overall yields this year are low ends of fields that stayed wet. “Our corn is running the first- or second-highest yields we’ve ever had. We are cutting a buckshot field right now that’s running about 150 bushels. That’s simply because it stayed wet. It’s 220 to 230 bushels on the upper end and 100 on the lower end.”
How will the price of corn affect Miles’ plans for 2015?
“If corn doesn’t get above $4 it will be tough to plant it. If I had to make a decision today, I’d have to go with wall-to-wall beans. We’re doing excellent with a wheat/bean rotation but you can only manage so many acres of wheat-beans. You can’t have 3,000 acres that is bone dry and you’re trying to get all the beds irrigated.
“Normally, we cut our wheat, bed the soybean ground and water the beds. This year, we rutted our wheat and then rutted the soybeans planting them. That was in June. So, June 1 to June 20, we rutted the ground and then planted beans in the ruts to keep from tilling it and maybe dry it out.”
An indication of how much rain has fallen this summer: the first irrigation on Miles’ wheat-beans was in mid-August.
The adoption of high-management soybeans in Arkansas came as market prices for commodities shifted. “When cotton was 70 cents and beans were $6, you put beans on your worst ground,” says Miles. “As the price evolved, we tried beans on cotton ground, silt loams.
“Then, we saw what the beans were capable of if you put the money into them. Robb said, ‘Let’s put the money into the beans that we normally put into cotton.’ So we did and the bean yields just kept getting better.”
Miles’ 2014 contest field was in corn last year. His 108-bushel bean field has rotated back to corn. He’s found that rotation typically provides an 8-bushel yield bump for soybeans.
“My son-in-law is farming and he asked me about that rotation considering the price of corn has dropped so much. I said, ‘well, when you’re penciling in the corn price, add eight bushels of beans that you’ll pick up the following year.’”