Heavy rains the first week of April increased flooding and problems in already-waterlogged Mid-South crop fields. Some of the wheat crop is already ruined — Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension wheat specialist, estimates some 25,000 acres of wheat in his state have been flooded — and the concern now is being able to plant other crops in a timely manner.
“Forget the rains that are falling now or coming this weekend; farmers are already facing water that's backed up on fields over the last 10 days,” said Chuck Wilson, Arkansas Extension rice specialist on April 2. “The rains that hit Missouri (the last week of March) have flooded everything downstream.
“What we're running into especially in north Arkansas is the top sides of fields are sometimes dry enough to work while the bottom sides are flooded. What to do in that situation? You can't plant the top side alone.
“South Arkansas isn't in as bad of shape as north. But there are areas in the south that are having major water problems.”
Get north of Bald Knob, Ark., travel towards Mississippi County, and “you'll see standing water in every field,” said Jeremy Ross on April 3. “If north Arkansas dries up today, it may be two weeks before farmers can even begin land prep. And on clays, it could be even longer.”
That's the best-case scenario, said the Arkansas Extension soybean specialist. “I was just around Keiser where there are some pretty heavy soils. Guys there said if it had quit raining yesterday, it would be three weeks before they could begin land prep. But the forecast isn't really friendly. Not only is it supposed to rain for the rest of this week, but it's supposed to crank back up (around April 9).”
Arkansas is just now inside the soybean-planting window. It won't hurt to delay planting several more weeks. However, farmers also are behind on planting other crops.
“Corn, rice and cotton are usually planted first,” said Ross. “Soybeans come after those. So if farmers follow the usual pattern, they'll be late planting those crops and soybeans will be pushed back that much further. It isn't a crisis yet, but I am concerned about northern Arkansas especially.”
Later planting of corn isn't to the crop's detriment. Last year, after an Easter freeze damaged early-planted corn, much of the crop was replanted in the last half of April.
“That was the best corn we've ever cut,” says William Johnson, Pioneer agronomist. “It came out of the ground sprinting. I like when you can get a stand in five days.”
Currently, soil temperatures in the upper half of the Mid-South “still aren't warm enough to plant corn. That's a function of wet weather and a lack of 70-degree days. Where we have planted — say from Dumas, south — it's taking 10 to 14 days to come up. On the extreme side, corn that was planted more than three weeks ago is finally emerging around Elaine.”
Johnson says ruined wheat crops two years running have put some farmers in a tough spot. “After last year's freeze, growers had to roll over wheat contracts to this year. Now, their wheat is ruined by flood and they'll have to roll the contracts over again. That's like trying to get out from under a 25 percent credit card.”
Planting later often brings additional issues to field management
“We've just now entered what I consider the optimum planting window for most rice producers,” said Wilson. “But there's no question: we will have a late crop.”
As a general rule, that means there will be higher disease pressure. “And that's for all diseases, not just one. Being late likely means lower yield potential than we'd have had if we were planting right now.”
If Arkansas rice producers begin planting around April 14, “it won't be the end of the world. But we need to be finished by the end of April and the entire rice crop has to be planted by then.”
It isn't just rice that's problematic. When it does finally dry out, “farmers will want to get as many crops planted as quickly as they can. That means at harvest all the crops will be ready at the same time — no staggering.
“Farmers will have to figure out how to get it all harvested. Some crops will be left in the field too long. And the later harvest gets, the more risk for hurricanes and unfriendly weather patterns to hit. Lodging potential is certainly higher.”
Wilson isn't too nervous yet. “But if we have a similar outlook on (April 9), I'll be really nervous.”
What about late-planted soybeans — double-cropped, or not?
“Late-planted beans are usually where we have most disease problems,” says Ross. “Early-planted beans don't just dodge insect trouble, but they also don't require as many irrigations as late-planted.
“Every week we don't plant, more and more soybeans will be in that window that is most susceptible for pests and disease — soybean rust, frogeye and a host of others. We definitely need to pay close attention to soybean rust this year. It is an absolute fact we'll have more beans later in the season. And those are where rust could really cause problems.”
Soybeans seed remains difficult to procure. In late March, the Arkansas Plant Board reported the most stop-sales on soybean seed in five years.