Timely rains putting smile on grain farmers' faces

“It’s amazing that the crop has pulled out of a tailspin from earlier in the season. And the crop has done so with relatively small amounts of moisture throughout the growing season. Louisiana is gearing up to start cutting a lot of corn in the next several weeks. We’ve yet to kick harvest into full gear, but that’s coming shortly.”

The first week of August, a small, tropical depression swept through the southern part of the state. That will slow Louisiana’s corn harvest some.

“We only started getting rains across the state about mid-July. Up to then, it was very desperate and frightening for many in Louisiana agriculture. When the rains hit, of the small grain crops, it probably benefited late-planted corn the most,” says Lanclos, who came to his current position on June 10 and will work out of the Dean Lee Research Center in Alexandria.

Considering the weather conditions and what could have been, Delta Extension specialists say they’re pleased with the lack of aflatoxin reports. “While it’s shown up in some isolated instances, it isn’t anything we can’t handle and I’m excited that’s the case. The few cases of aflatoxin have shown up in dryland corn that was planted very early,” says Lanclos.

The southern half of Louisiana was definitely drier during the growing season. Lanclos suspects that will lead to lower yields there. In the northern part of the state, corn is irrigated much more and will likely mean higher yields with little to no aflatoxin reported.

Insect-wise, it’s been a very quiet year in Louisiana corn. “We did have some problems earlier, but we’ve been drying fields down for the past 6 weeks so haven’t applied anything.”

Lanclos, who also works with soybeans, says the state’s crop is in good shape. While the crop isn’t bumper, it is “good and healthy.” Some of the earlier beans, Group 4’s on sugarcane ground, are beginning to be cut. Lately, “we’ve gotten rain that is causing some aerial blight problems. As a result, we’re spraying a whole lot for disease.”

Also on soybeans, farmers are beginning to spray for corn earworms. The worms came in over the first week of August and are still moving with strength.

Louisiana farmers have also begun harvesting sorghum. State yields are surprising to Lanclos, “although we knew that sorghum is much more drought tolerant than corn. Last week, farmers cut 105 to 110 bushels per acre. Sorghum is shaping up to be quite pleasing. When we started catching rains, the sorghum crop was pretty much already made.”

The Mississippi corn harvest is commencing and the hot, dry weather the state is currently experiencing is conducive to fast dry-down and excellent harvest conditions. That’s a big swing compared to last year when some areas had as much as 12 inches to 20 inches of rainfall during August, says Erick Larson, Mississippi Extension small grains specialist.

“Last year’s late season rains backed harvest up and really caused some problems,” says Larson.

“This year’s fine weather is very welcome because this is a bad year for corn borers. Specifically, the southwestern corn borer is a major pest this summer. The third generation of the southwestern corn borer – which is occurring right now – will go down to the base of the corn stalk and girdle it internally. That predisposes the plant to easy lodging.”

Larson expects to see problems from the girdling activity to start showing up around Labor Day weekend -- about 25 to 30 days after the third generation of borers appeared.

The corn borers are a huge concern. The potential for damage from this pest to Mississippi’s corn crop is “enormous. We’re encouraging corn growers to try and finish, if at all possible, corn harvest before Labor Day. This may cause problems in some parts of the state, specifically the northeastern section because the corn crop is later there and hasn’t yet reached physiological maturity. Regardless, the crop there will be at relatively high moisture on Labor Day.”

There haven’t been any reports on aflatoxin in Mississippi.

“That’s great news so far. I don’t expect to have any significant problems because July temperatures weren’t terribly excessive,” says Larson. “Temperatures along with water stress predispose the corn crop to aflatoxin. Mississippi did have some drought, but not the temperatures.”

Mississippi corn acreage never reached full expectations, although the state is up about 35 percent. Mississippi went from 400,000 corn acres last year to 540,000 acres this year. That’s lower than what was intended, but a wet planting season caused a switch to alternative crops.

Larson says July showers the state received encouraged morning glory growth in some fields. “That’s another reason we encourage farmers to plant early.”

As far as yield, Larson says Mississippi should expect an average to good crop. The irrigated crop should do well because temperatures were moderate during June and July. Dryland corn suffered in areas below Highway 8 – essentially the lower two-thirds of the state – because of early season drought stress.

With late season showers, Mississippi sorghum yields should be very good. Larson says farmers can “probably expect” a new yield record for sorghum in the state.

“Our sorghum acres are down from 90,000 acres last year to around 70,000 acres this year. The main reason for that was the wet condition of last August. The moisture at that time destroyed any sorghum that hadn’t been harvested by last Labor Day. That resulted in some very ugly head sprouting and hurt the marketability of that crop tremendously. I believe that sprout damaged sorghum hurt the crop to the tune of 50 percent of what it would normally bring. Because of that, many farmers shied away from sorghum.”

The first week of August, William Johnson, Arkansas Extension corn and sorghum specialist, was in Lafayette County looking over the corn crop. “It was absolutely beautiful. They’re cutting 130 to 150 bushel dryland corn. They got 8 inches of rain during grain fill and another shower to finish the crop out at black layer. There was only a two-week period when there was any water stress there and that was early in the season.”

The rest of the state has great looking corn too. While still a couple of weeks from a proper harvest, Johnson says he doesn’t know if Arkansas can do as well yield-wise as it did last year. “Last year, we had a state average of 145 bushels per acre (shattering the previous record of 130 bushels). This year, we’ll probably be right around 140 bushels, which isn’t shabby at all.”

Corn borers are heavy in some areas of Arkansas. But farmers tended to plant conventional corn through April 20 and then switched to Bt varieties, says Johnson. “That should help with control.”

As in Mississippi, Johnson suspects sorghum yields could be a record. “We could blow the yield record up with this year’s milo crop. The late rains we’ve gotten have really helped. Some of the farmers have begun putting out 150 to 180 total units of nitrogen on their crop. We’ll have some fields of milo going close to 10,000 pounds – that’s 170 to 180 bushel milo.”

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