A wet, cool spring planting season has put many crops in a poor position heading into the summer. The recent months have certainly done Mid-South wheat no favors. Reports out of Louisiana say some wheat fields are bad enough that they won’t be harvested.
What about grains in Arkansas?
“A lot of rain after heading can lead to nothing good in wheat,” says Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension wheat, corn and grain sorghum agronomist. “For us, though, it isn’t just the rain that’s come in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, the rains came at the same time a lot of wheat fields needed to be fertilized in mid-February. That’s when the problems really started – if you don’t get fertilizer on the crop in a timely manner that affects yields.
“Then, right as we near harvest, the questions about what kind of quality we’ll see come up.”
Many will remember last year’s record yields, says Kelley, “but we also had some of the lowest test weights we’d seen in quite a while. A lot of the rainfall we got last year came after the crop was mature and then had to endure all the moisture. That’s what nailed us on test weight and quality.
“Now, I’m unsure if this year will be a repeat of that or not. Some of the early-maturing varieties that are in the south of the state will be impacted. I understand Louisiana wheat is experiencing some of the same but they’re taking it on the chin worse than we are farther north.”
Arkansas has experienced many foliar diseases with this wheat crop. “Stripe rust levels, overall, were light but that’s very variety-dependent. Some of the susceptible varieties had tremendous amounts of stripe rust. Facing lower grain prices, those with the problem were probably less inclined to treat.”
The state had leaf rust come in late in the season. “That’s variety-dependent, as well. Those who sprayed a fungicide earlier in the season – say, at heading – probably still had some protection. Those who didn’t spray and planted susceptible varieties, the leaf rust came on hard. Some fields lost almost all their green leaf area.”
Some scab and bacterial streak have also hit wheat. “Last year, we had some scab problems in northeast Arkansas. It seemed to hit later-maturing varieties worse. This year, it seems the farther south you travel and the earlier the variety headed, the more likely you’ll see scab.”
Even with all the troubles, says Kelley, there remains “some good wheat in the state and there’s some poor wheat, too. The problem is there’s not much in between to balance the average. Last year, we hit a 61-bushel average – again, a record. This year, the crop is average, at best. If we can harvest a 55-bushel average, I’d be pretty happy.”
The initial estimate for planting intentions had Arkansas at 530,000 acres. That seemed optimistic because the market price had dipped, says Kelley. “We aren’t going to get close to that – I’m hoping we hit about 400,000 acres. There are some pockets with quite a bit of corn and other areas with not nearly the acreage that was intended.
“We struggled to get corn acreage planted. A lot of times we get a lot of corn planted in March – but not this year. There were a couple of small windows when the majority of the corn acres were planted. One window was at the first of April and another was the last week of April.”
The corn fields Kelley has seen are a mixed bag. “Fields with drainage issues that most years do fine are experiencing problems at the bottom ends. You can definitely tell where water has been sitting.
“We’re still having trouble getting fields fertilized. The weather is just prohibitive. And weeds are popping up as the temperature rises. We just can’t get in the field because things are so wet.”
Grain sorghum acres were expected to soar this year and Kelley says that has indeed occurred.
“The March planting report had Arkansas planting around 250,000 acres of grain sorghum. Last year, we had right around 160,000 acres. I thought the 250,000 acre estimate was low and will likely go up. It wouldn’t surprise me if we end up with 350,000 acres of sorghum.
“Central and north-central Arkansas is where we’ve seen the largest increase in acreage. The area from Phillips County south has increased acreage some but they’re more gun-shy because that’s where the sugarcane aphid was worse last year.”
Some fields had real troubles with the sugarcane aphid in 2014. “That was on the mind of farmers in the lead-up to planting season. All winter, we talked about grain sorghum management and how one of the things to do is plant early to lessen the impact of the aphid. Well, just like with corn, early-planted sorghum this year has struggled. The cool, wet weather just hampered it. Some folks didn’t get the stand they wanted – a three-inch rain dropping on it didn’t help.”
Herbicide drift is also a big problem this year. Glyphosate drift has been especially bad, says Kelley.
“In late April/early May a lot of the grain sorghum turned purple because of the weather. So, not only was it struggling to grow but too many fields were hit with glyphosate drift on top of that. Some of that purpling was due to herbicide drift and some wasn’t. Regardless, we’ve certainly learned that grain sorghum is very sensitive to glyphosate.”