As combines roll in earnest, Extension specialists describe the Mid-South soybean growing season as rather bi-polar. “From beginning to end this has been a year of extremes for Mississippi farmers,” says Trent Irby, Mississippi State University Extension soybean specialist. “I think it’s been similar for a lot of the Mid-South.
“We got a jump on planting early in the window this spring. Then, we went through a period of wet, cold weather that resulted in replanting in several areas of the state. We essentially ended up with three planting dates this season. There was planting in early April and it rained the rest of the month. That repeated in May. We finished planting in early June. Then, it turned hot and dry at a critical point in the season. We really went from one extreme to another.”
In Arkansas, farmers are largely ready to see the back end of the 2015 crop. “We’re close to the end, thank God,” says Jeremy Ross, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist. “It’s been a tough growing season. Everyone is just wanting to get finished with rice, corn and get into the thick of beans without delay. With commodity prices where they are, farmers will need to get every bean out of the fields to pay their bills.”
Taking it on the chin
It’s been no better in Louisiana. “It’s just been a difficult year and it seemed every time things started moving in the right direction there’d be some major event to hurt the crop,” says Ronnie Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist.
Louisiana producers took it on the chin from the get-go, says Levy. “We started off extremely wet. During our optimum planting time – around the middle of April -- we were receiving rain almost all over the state every day or every other day. It was to the point that we were really worrying about getting the crop in.
“The first of May, we caught a break and were able to start planting. There were a few spots that got in earlier than that but the majority of our acreage was planted in May and June. We were planting soybeans into July in some areas.”
After planting, Louisiana growers faced six weeks of drought. “It was kind of a wild ride and that drought really affected the crop through smaller beans,” says Levy. “We started catching a few rains after that and those helped some of the later beans. Where there was irrigation, producers came up with some pretty good yields so it hasn’t been a terrible story for everyone. But, truth is, I’m hearing more bad stories than good.”
Ross says parts of northern Arkansas “have stayed wet pretty much all season. I spoke with a farmer in Poinsett County, who, from the end of March until about three weeks ago was averaging two-tenths of inch of rain per day. Think about that and how it would be a struggle to grow a decent crop. There are a lot of anxious producers in the north.”
Weed control in Mississippi fields “was very difficult because it was impossible for some operations to make timely herbicide applications due to environmental conditions,” says Irby. “Disease and insect pressures were relatively light across the earliest planted acres, but did pick up on later planted acres as the season progressed.”
Another complicating factor for Louisiana producers, says Levy, was the heat. “Something different for this year’s crop from the last two was extremely hot nighttime temperatures. That certainly hurt our yields, as well.
“It seemed things lined up against us and late planting always hampers the soybean crop. That means burndowns aren’t timely, the insect pests are waiting to feed on the plant as soon as they emerge. The canopy doesn’t develop in a way that takes advantage of the sunlight.
“We also saw some more disease – especially diseases that like cool, wet conditions early. We saw aerial leaf blight, frogeye leafspot that came in early, cercospora blight, charcoal rot showed up when we were in that drought. Soybean rust came in late but our crop was advanced enough that it had a minimal impact.”
Weather-wise, harvest was probably the best part of the Louisiana season. “Growers were able to get their harvest aids out in a favorable way. We’re probably 85 to 90 percent harvested. Sadly, our yields will likely be six to 10 bushel decrease per acre from 2014. Last year, we were at 57 bushels per acre and we’ll probably be in the high 40s when the final tally comes in.
“We have close to 1.6 million acres of soybeans this year. But, again, there were a lot of prevented planting acres. And some acreage just won’t be harvested.”
Back in Arkansas, Ross says harvest is “going pretty well. The numbers that came out at the first of the week show we’re on par for the five-year average – something like 22 percent harvested.
“Things are moving rapidly, especially with the heat and good conditions we’re experiencing. It is getting dry in some parts of the state and some producers would have benefited from another rain so they wouldn’t have to spend money on another irrigation.
“I’ve spoken to several consultants and producers in the last couple of weeks about terminating irrigation. I’m really stressing the beans need to get to the 6.5 stage before stopping. At 6.5, if there’s good soil moisture, it’s okay to go ahead and stop. If it’s dry and there’s no rain forecast in the next couple of days, our data shows the crop will benefit from a last irrigation to fill out the pods.”
Some Arkansas soybeans “are starting to pick up some soybean rust but it’s coming in late enough that it probably won’t cause any problems. There are a few counties fired up but I just don’t see it having a yield impact.
“Pest issues have largely died down. The worms and stinkbug numbers we saw a month ago have dropped.”
Current USDA projections has Mississippi at 2.35 million planted acres. Irby believes “that’s close to what will be harvested. The most recent USDA report is predicting a yield of 48 bushels for a state average. That may be a bit high – we may be in the mid-40s. We’ve got some really solid yields in some areas, but we have had other areas of the state with lower yield due to very little rainfall during the late summer and that will impact our overall state average.
“Last year, the Mississippi state average was 52 bushels – a record. We went up in acreage this year and given some of the issues we’ve had this season I think yields will drop some.”
As of September 24, Mississippi is a bit over “50 percent harvested in and yields are widely scattered. The last couple of weeks have been really big for us in terms of harvest progress -- the pace has really picked up. The weather has been conducive for harvest and combines are rolling in most areas of the state. Some operations are completely finished.”
What about yields in Arkansas?
“It’s all over the board,” says Ross. “The range is wider than it has been for a while. The last couple of years, we’ve had good growing conditions -- mild temperatures in July and August. There was also decent rainfall in many areas. That meant we didn’t see the big yield swings we’re seeing now.
“I’m hearing yields from 15 bushels per acre to Matt Miles (of McGehee in the southeast part of the state) cutting 108 bushels and everything in between. Two verification fields cut in the southern part of the state that were in the upper 80s.”
With a tad over 20 percent of our the state acres cut, “I have to think a lot of those acres are in the southern half of the state. I also think yields there will be somewhat better than farther north, where there were more delays.”
Because of so many delays in applying herbicides, Ross is “absolutely” worried for the state’s future weed control problems worsening. “The Mid-South weed scientists held their annual meeting here on (September 21 and 22). There were folks from Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana that had driven in. There were a lot of comments from out-of-state scientists to the effect of ‘our fields don’t look as weedy as yours.’
“That is a major worry, man. You drive around and there’s a lot of pigweeds and grasses popped out over the canopy. Those seeds are going to be there causing problems in the future. They’ll be in the seed bank. It would be a good idea for producers to consider other options – maybe a different crop rotation so other chemistries can be used for control, maybe some fall tillage, some residuals in early-season burndowns. We need good, clean fields to plant into next year.”
What about fields inside the Mississippi River levee that were replanted late?
“Honestly, I haven’t heard anything lately,” says Ross. “The river started coming up at the end of June or early July and I started getting numerous calls. They wanted to know about maturity groups and replanting advice. At that point, the assumption was they’d be able to get back in those fields by the end of July but the river didn’t come down as quickly as anticipated.
“If they did replant, I suspect the beans have had to be sprayed with both a fungicide and insecticide. And they’ll be looking at another application before it’s over.”
There have been some areas in Arkansas that have had serious struggles with high waters. “The Arkansas River Valley and the southwest have had problems getting planted. The Valley, overall, was behind a month, or so. Some of the acreage never got planted because it was so late by the time the water receded. Driving around, I’ve seen more prevented planted fields around the state than ever before.”
The Arkansas edamame crop “did pretty well,” says Ross. “The company folks I speak with say the yields have been good.
“We’re actually harvesting our second variety today up at the Newport Research Station. The first variety we harvested about two weeks ago did well. We’re hoping the same for the second variety.”
How impressive is Matt Miles’ record yield?
“That is very impressive,” says Ross. “You know, two months ago when we were right in the middle of all that heat and soybeans were in the middle of production, I was getting calls on beans dropping pods and flowers. At that point, I thought there was very little chance for someone to hit 100 bushels.
“I’m really happy for Matt. He’s got the golden thumb and knows his land and has his management dialed in.”