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Are Arkansas farmers moving to more corn and sorghum?

Arkansas farmers will harvest 310,000 acres of corn this year, the most harvested since 1959, according to William Johnson, wheat and small grains specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Farmers harvested 380,000 acres of corn in 1959, according to the Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service.

Statewide average yields since 1959 have steadily risen. The yield jumped from 32 bushels an acre in 1959 to a landmark 100 bushels an acre in 1985. This year, the average estimated yield is 140 bushels, second only to the record of 145 bushels set last year. It's also more than four times the 1959 yield average.

Johnson said farmers could be spurred to plant even more corn next year.

“In 2003, we could plant more than 500,000 acres of corn because of low cotton and rice prices,” he said.

Johnson figured farmers in northeast Arkansas will likely increase corn acres and cut back on rice, while in southeast Arkansas farmers will replace some cotton with corn.

Meanwhile, grain sorghum acres continue to rise. Farmers harvested 170,000 acres in 2001. The 2002 harvest is estimated to be 275,000 acres. However, those figures are far short of the record acreage of 970,000 set in 1985.

The estimated statewide average sorghum yield this year is 82 bushels an acre, second only to the record set in 2001 of 86 bushels.

“We could potentially plant more than 500,000 acres in 2003,” Johnson said. The additional acres would come at the expense of soybean, cotton and rice, he said.

“Soybean cyst nematodes have increased, and sorghum is an excellent rotational crop that can help reduce nematode numbers. Where red rice problems exist, sorghum allows the use of atrazine, an effective herbicide in controlling red rice. Current research demonstrates that we can plant sorghum following rice and make good yields.”

Johnson noted that harvesting sorghum in August allows for fall field preparation for next season's crop. It also sometimes allows for red rice germination in the fall, but the plants will not have time to make seed. In addition, stale seedbed preparations in a reduced tillage operation will likely reduce emergence of red rice plants. The reason is that the soil is not be disturbed, so the red rice seed is not be disturbed and remains dormant.

Johnson said sorghum is currently commanding excellent prices.

At Memphis, grain sorghum is bringing 20 to 30 cents more per bushel than corn. As soon as sorghum is delivered at Memphis, it's being placed on barges and taken to the Gulf of Mexico where it's loaded on ships for transport to Mexico.

“Mexico has stopped buying corn since corn is a GMO crop, and at the present time, no GMO grain sorghum has been developed,” he said.

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

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