Harvest Results

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2020: A Year to Remember 

for the Farming Community

By Mark H. Stowers

Each growing season and harvest year brings its own problems with weather and pests. But, with the global pandemic putting an extra layer of complications on the farming community made the 2020 farm year one to remember. A wet spring put planting behind and the rise of COVID-19 put a damper on markets. That sent farmers searching at the last minute for the best row crop for a return on investment. Mississippi State Extension specialist gave their input on each row crop for the year.

Soybean Update

Soybean acreage grew over intentions as poor planting conditions for corn pushed farmers to the crop. Mississippi State Extension Soybean specialist Trent Irby notes that corn and cotton farmers relied on soybeans to fill their acreage.

“Soybean planting intentions were initially between 1.8 and 1.9 million acres but due to market changes and/or weather that prohibited other commodities from being planted on time, we ended up planting roughly 2.0 million acres of soybean,” says Irby.

Early wet weather, late dry weather and insect problems were key problems this harvest season.

“We had some hot dry weather toward the end that definitely took its toll on some of our non-irrigated acres, and excessive heat can even take a certain toll on irrigated ground if it occurs during key developmental stages,” he says. “Prior to that part of the season things looked really, really good for the most part. Of course, when plants have stress late in the season, it’s common to find problems related to root issues. Since that time, we have had to manage redbanded stink bugs, which wasn’t unexpected, but is an issue that we may not have to battle to the same degree each season.”

With COVID-19 hitting in the early stages of planting, it didn’t stop farmers from working, but the markets were affected. 

The pandemic did affect farmers to some degree, but I think it is mostly related to markets,” he says. From my observations, I do think that COVID negatively influenced prices this year.”

Tropical storms have been busy battering the Gulf coast and beyond with wind and rain. Some farmers were still working on getting all of their soybeans harvested at press time.

Rice Update

Rice was one of the grain crops that showed an increase in acreage according to Dr. Bobby Golden, the Mississippi State Extension rice specialist.

“We planted around 175,000,” says Golden. “Intended acres was around 150,000. Once we got planted there were not many issues. We were lucky and missed most of the hurricanes. But at the end of October there was still some rice left to be harvested which was due to late planting due to early rainfall. The COVID-19 issue with rice, effected some labor issues. Outside of that not really influenced that much.” 

Golden notes farmers are looking to have possible yield records when this year’s crop is all said and done.

“This is the best yield year we have seen in quite some time in Mississippi. At the end of the day when all the bushels are counted, we may see a yield record,” he says. 

Rice yields have been over 200-plus bushels per acre, according to Golden.

“We’ve heard pretty phenomenal numbers,” he says. There’s a lot of 200-plus bushel (per acre) rice being cut on average this year. Early on, the rice that’s being cut is looking really, really good. We’re poised to have a big yield in the state this year.”

Cotton Update

Dr. Brian Pieralisi came on board this past April as the new cotton extension specialist. He took over the role that Darrin Dodds held before moving up the ladder taking the role of the university’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. The wet spring and pandemic delayed cotton planting and brought down intended acres.

“In March, the projected acreage was 630,000 acres and we ended up with 520,000 acres,” Pieralisi says. “A lot of that decrease in acreage could have been due to COVID when farmers were making their plans. The price of cotton fell to about fifty or fifty-two cents (per pound) and a lot of our acreage probably shifted to soybeans.”

The COVID-19 problems included mostly the market and forced new ways to do regular day to day things. 

“When there’s uncertainty in society, the market responds,” he says. “From a producer standpoint, the biggest impact was there haven’t been as many field days due to wet weather.”

The cotton harvest began just before Tropical Storm Beta came through.

“There were minimal losses due to rainfall, but not wind,” he says. “We really needed the month of October to be dry.”

Yield numbers are “fair to good and in some places really good,” Pieralisi says. “There have been solid yields.”

Corn Update

Planting season was wet this past spring. Corn planting was pushed back and many farmers put in other grains as time allowed. Early projections were for 700,000 acres of corn to be planted, but the final number was 550,000. Those who stuck with their initial plans had a solid harvest, according to the Mississippi State Extension service.

“Both corn and cotton had their acreage reduced by the rainfall we got this spring,” says Dr. Erick Larson, Mississippi State University Extension Service grain crop specialist. “Corn really didn’t have a defined planting window or much opportunity to plant corn. Just a few scattered days in late March and early April. That had a big impact. A lot of farmers by mid-April had changed their intentions. We didn’t have a great planting window until late April.”

Favorable growing conditions helped corn productivity. Larson noted average yields in dryland corn and good results with irrigated fields. The USDA estimated corn yields around 180 bushels an acre, up from last year. 

“Corn is responsive to early plantings, but this year a planting window of more than a day did not materialize at all throughout much of the corn-growing portions of the state until late April,” says Larson.  “There were more opportunities to plant in the southern part of the state, but that comprises a small percentage of the growing area. May was drier than normal, which generally helped the corn get off to a good start and allowed growers an opportunity to apply fertilizer and herbicides in a timely manner.”

Hot nights took a toll on corn after tassels and affected yields according to Larson. 

“Overnight temperatures at that time were a slightly above normal, but not excessively hot,” says Larson. “That probably affected the later planted corn more than the early, although we’ve gotten several harvest reports that early corn didn’t yield as well as later corn.”

Early corn prices also persuaded farmers to plant something other than corn. According to Will Maples, MSU Extension agricultural economist, corn futures have rebounded since March, when the price dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic pressure.

“Futures are trading in the $3.65 to $3.75 range, which has led to some new crop cash bids in the Mississippi Delta in $3.80 to $4 range,” says Maples. “This is presenting marketing opportunities for producers to at least break even this year.”

He also notes that yield in the Midwest helped the price for Mississippi farmers. The hurricane weather issues hurt south Mississippi corn, but most of Mississippi’s corn crop was well east of the storm’s path.

“Wind is a big threat to corn because it is such a tall crop. Wind damage considerably slows harvest progress and increases losses because combines have difficulty picking fallen or lodged stalks and ears up off the ground,” says Larson. “Fortunately, Hurricane Laura generally went west of Mississippi, so the winds we had weren’t strong enough to cause severe lodging for a lot of the Delta crop that would have been more exposed.”

Looking at the harvest, Larson sums it up as, “we had a pretty smooth harvest season. Despite the various hurricanes we’ve been expose to, things went relatively smoothly. Our yields were up a few bushels from last year. I would call our yields in general, pretty solid and consistent. We didn’t have the issues with re-planting but we did have planting delays and complications associated with that. We didn’t end up with poor stands that limit yield potentials.”

Wheat and Sorghum Update

Larson also covers the off-season wheat and sorghum acreage, but those acres have been on the decline recently due to late season weather during planting, poor market conditions and the federal incentives to put in cover crops. 

“We’ll have a little more wheat planted than we’ve had in the past, but we’ve been at historically low wheat acreage for the past three years,” says Larson. “I’m getting a little more traffic as far as communication on wheat production practices education and variety selection. We just need some favorable weather at this point to allow us to plant it. Mostly, avoid big soaking rains that will keep growers out of the field where they can’t get any tillage work or planting done.”

On the sorghum front, “there’s been very little planted. The market potential for those crops determine a lot and that’s been low. Also, the presence of sugar cane aphids which is a new pest that requires specific insecticides. That greatly reduces the profit potential on a crop that’s not going to be very productive when compared to your other crops.”

Farmers have made it through another growing and harvest season despite the obstacles in their path both on and off the turnrow.