By Mark H. Stowers
Farmers are either in tune with Mother Nature or fighting through the hardships she can sometimes lay down on a turnrow. This past spring the incessant rains flooded the south Delta area to the tune of 550,000 acres of which more than half was agriculture land. Farmers had still had acreage above water were slowed down and backed up by the wet conditions and crops were delayed in planting for nearly a month. That closed the window on a lot of intended planting acreage and with low commodity prices already, farmers had to erase and reconfigure their acres. Soybeans and cotton seemed to pick up the lost acres that rice and corn farmers couldn’t get planted early on.
Preston Aust, Humphrey’s County Extension agent has seen too much water in his area. He farms as well but spends more time riding turn rows with his extension job.
“We probably had around 20,000 to 25,000 acres under water. Then another 20,000 that was prevented from planting because it would never get dry,” Aust said.
For those who did get crops in, they were late in planting.
“A majority of our soybeans and cotton were probably 20-30 days later than where we normally wind up in our planting dates. Typically, the middle of April we plant the bulk of our beans and the first of May, we plant the bulk of our cotton. But the first of May we were really just beginning the bulk of our beans. Then we got hit with more rain and most of our cotton was planted the 20th of May and the first of June. Some bean acres didn’t go in till the middle of June.”
Harvest has been “scattered out, cutting a few here and a few there and waiting on some to get ready,” Aust said. “There were only a few days to plant corn in March and a little in April. A lot of people were irrigating soybeans in some fields while harvesting them in another. Yields have been down about 15 percent.”
Cotton gained some ground as farmers searched for anything to get in the ground.
“The market was driving that a little bit as it was in the seventy-cent range but that dropped down,” Aust said. “All of us in the south are hoping the Midwest crop yield is off and we’ll have a chance to see some higher corn and soybean prices in the early spring. They have a lot of unplanted acres up there as well.”
Rice – Acreage Loss
According to Mississippi State extension rice expert, Dr. Bobby Golden, the rains held up planting leading to less acreage.
“Rice ended up at 116,000 planted acres,” Dr. Golden said. “We planned on 150,000 to start the year.”
He noted that “acres weren’t lost to flooding exclusively but to rain and weather. That’s the difference between 150,000 and 116,000.”
The wet weather led to other setbacks as well.
“The main problem has been wet weather around planting and fertilization. Grass weed pressures in some areas and disease issues in rice areas were big problems,” Dr. Golden said.
He did explain that when comparing this year’s planting and harvest to last year’s it was an exact opposite.
“We look to have a good crop and harvest season has went well with all of the dry weather we have had,” Dr. Golden said. “So, that’s a welcome from last year’s poor harvest conditions. Yields for rice have been average to slightly above average.
Cotton – Kingly Crop Still on Upswing
For generations, cotton was the main crop across the south but lost its reign in the 1980s as prices fell and grain crops began to soar. But in the last decade there has been a steady increase in farmers putting more acres of cotton back in rotation. Dr. Darrin Dodds, head of Mississippi State University’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and extension’s cotton expert noted that 720,000 were planted this year and it could have been more.
“The actual unplanted acreage is unknown, possible 10,000-20,000 in the south Delta,” Dr. Dodds said.
Prices have been low across the board for every crop but cotton yield estimates have remained high.
“Yield estimates for our state are 1,115 pounds per acre. If this holds, it will mark eight years in a row of greater than 1,000 pounds per acre state average cotton yield,” he said. “In three of those eight years, we have averaged over 1,200 pounds per acre. This is exceptional given that prior to 2012, only one time in history (2004) did we average in excess of 1,000 pounds per acre.”
Cotton farmers faced the same exact problems of everyone else across the Delta, a year of excess bad weather and backed up water and well as plant disease.
“Wet weather from last fall delaying field work and planting. Also, cotton leaf roll dwarf virus (CLRDV) has been confirmed in many of our cotton producing counties. It is unknown at this time the impact that this virus will have on cotton yields,” he said. “Visual symptoms manifest themselves in a number of ways which can make mid-identification very easy. Our plant pathologists and virologists are working very hard to determine the effect that this virus may have on our production systems.”
Corn – Acres Are Up
Even with the loss of acreage in the south Delta, corn acres were up from the previous year. With the commodity market being in a slump, many farmers took the gamble on corn as their best bet for the 2019 growing season. But as with the other crops, wet weather was a major player according to Mississippi State Extension corn specialist, Dr. Erick Larson.
“We did have a bigger corn crop statewide this year. There was obviously a large area in the south Delta where no row crops were planted. That reduced the potential corn acreage in the Delta,” Dr. Larson said. “Otherwise it was up.”
Last year there was just over 500,000 acres of corn planted and this season there was 590,000 this year. Larson noted the south Delta would have had a majority of corn acres.
“We were probably up about 70,000 acres this year,” Dr. Larson said.
The wet weather delayed planting time as well as causing significant issues with initial corn stands after planting.
“That wet saturated soil caused stand issues. The last six or seven years have been challenging in that regard but the difference this year was that the stands that were planted in late March or early April had significant issues where they had to replant.”
Normally, when corn stands are lost moving into April, farmers swap to another crop.
“But this year because the markets were substantially more favorable to corn than soybeans, a lot more growers replanted their failed stands of corn back to corn. Replanted or not, we still had a lot more acres planted late,” he said.
In looking at corn yields, Dr. Larson explained they weren’t as favorable due to the wet conditions during the entire growing season.
“The yields were extremely variable. In general, the yields were not as good as what we’ve had the last couple of years because we got too much rainfall. We had complications with the soil saturation and had nutrient losses and developmental issues associated with too much soil saturation where it stunted the crop in the vegetative stages limited its yield potential. The variability is associated with fields that had poor drainage or soil types that hold more water longer.”
Dr. Larson noted that yields were down from expectations built from the past few years final production.
“We had 20 inches of rain above normal from the first of January through the first of August when the crop was reaching physical maturity,” he said. “Crops were later than normal and the rain in August delayed harvest by about 10 days. There weren’t any complications to speak of during harvest.”
He noted the dry harvest weather also is helping farmers get ahead on working on their seed bed prep for next planting season. Something they didn’t get to do last season due to late rains. He does believe with the flood waters having receded there will be an increase in intended corn planting acres for the 2020 crop.
Farmer Will Branton put in a 50/50 mix of corn and soybeans on his Washington County acreage.
“Actually, a little more than half our acres were in corn,” Branton said. “But our yields were off. All that low-lying water we had in spring and all that rain kept washing off and diluting our fertilizer.”
He’s heard similar stories from other farmers about lower yields as well.
“Other problems I’ve heard is over pollination that affected yields,” he said. “Our yield is down about 15 percent. If you had good drainage then yields were about normal.”
The excess rain did bring about some savings though as “we didn’t have to water as much this year and we definitely had a fuel savings cost. On the soybean side, the rains kept us out of the field and delayed planting. I’ve got neighbors who were 10 percent under water. If you plant after May 1sts you see a five-bushel yield decrease per week. That adds up quick.”
Soybeans – Flood Takes Away Acreage, Yields Down
The crop that picked up acreage but still lost overall has been soybeans this year. With the south Delta flooding effecting those numbers greatly across the board. Dr. Trent Irby, Mississippi State Extension Soybean Specialist, explained the numbers.
“Soybean intended acres was estimated at 2.0 million in March of 2019,” Dr. Irby said. “Estimates in August of 2019 for soybean in Mississippi are 1.67 million harvested acres (we didn’t plant the full 2.0 million intended back in March) with a forecasted yield of 53 bushels per acre. It is too early in the harvest process to determine if that yield estimate will hold or not.”
The south Delta flooding brought the intended acreage number down this year with so many farmers not being able to plant any crops.
“At one time, there was an estimated 225,000 to 250,000 acres of production land under water in the south Delta. With a decline in harvested soybean acres of more than 500,000 from last year, a reasonable estimate would remain between 225,000 and 250,000 acres left unplanted in 2019,” he said.
At press time, farmers were still in the fields harvesting soybeans so a complete yield number was not available.
“So far, better than expected overall. However, we have a long way to go at this point,” he said.
In addition to the late planting, flooding and the usual problems of weed and insect control, Dr. Irby noted the problems extended to each and every row crop this season.
“The main issues for producers in 2019 are the same, regardless of crop. It was just the environmental conditions that kept things so challenging throughout the majority of the planting season. As already discussed, a lot of acres were left unplanted. But there were lots of acres planted in adverse conditions where frequent rains and temporary flooding caused big issues with achieving adequate stands. Our producers had to do lots of replanting because of these issues,” he said.
Soybean farmers along with Dr. Irby are hoping the dry weather hangs on through harvest.
“At this point, we really need favorable conditions to get the remaining acres harvested. For soybean, we have more later planted acres than normal meaning we will have more acres to harvest later in the harvest window than normal. After the crops were established, many areas experienced a lot of timely rainfall so overall, the soybean crop looks much better than expectations were initially during planting and early crop development,” he said.
In north Sunflower County, farmer Stafford Shurden was “100 percent soybeans this year” and noted it was pretty unusual to have only one crop on all his acres.
“Due to the wet weather, we weren’t able to get corn planted. We haven’t had rice in a couple of years so we just planted soybeans,” he said. “It was incredibly wet up until harvest. It was both a blessing and curse, you could say.”
The wet weather greatly decreased Shurden’s irrigation needs and that helps keep the Delta Aquifer from being tapped too much by farmers.
“We did very little irrigation but it was hard to get our crop in due to the rain but we are much more fortunate than farmers in the south Delta who didn’t even get to put in a crop,” he said. “I’m very thankful for what we did get in. Most everything we did was planted the last weekend of April and the first couple of weeks in May. Nothing was planted before that. We usually try to start planting corn the 15th of March and then plant soybeans the 10th to 25th of April.”
And he like other farmers is thankful for the now dry weather to get his beans out of the field.
“It started raining last March and didn’t quit until August,” he said. “Everybody has had a ‘good’ yield but the heavier rains held back the yield we could have had. I’d say it’s average to a little bit above average. I think everybody’s expectations were high but it’s still an average year but I was hoping for an above average year. Prices are remarkably low. Soybeans are in the eight- to nine-dollar range and corn is in that $3.50 range (mid-September). We sold some beans in the 10-plus dollar range last year but you’re looking at a 10-15 percent decrease in prices and we thought last year’s prices were low.”