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Arkansas, Mississippi: Soybean crops show signs of damage

It's not quite time for a post-mortem on the Delta soybean crop, but in the midst of harvest some trends are readily apparent. Most of those trends, unfortunately, are unkind to growers' bottom lines.

“We're getting into later soybeans and are seeing some tremendous yields. But our earlier crop really took it on the chin and will drag the overall picture down tremendously,” says Alan Blaine, Mississippi Extension soybean specialist.

Mississippi's expected average yield went up 4 bushels per acre from August to September, says Blaine.

“In my opinion, we had the potential for the greatest soybean crop Mississippi has ever had. But we got 15 days of rainy, overcast weather that coincided with the final maturity push for much of the crop. That caused the crop to go downhill fast.

“The bright spot is that the beans coming in now are showing very nice yields — 40 to 60 bushels dryland. That'll help our average, but there are many areas of the state where we rolled the dice and went heavy in Group 4s, and it cost us.”

As in Mississippi, the Arkansas crop is a mixed bag and has seen its share of odd problems. Chief among those problems is the nematode, which Lannie Ashlock, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist, has addressed throughout the season.

“The nematode in Arkansas continues to be hot even as we approach harvest and maturity. We keep getting reports on new fields affected by nematodes, so we think the problem may be more widespread than we first suspected,” says Ashlock.

Two researchers/nematologists in Arkansas are working to determine which races are hurting the crop. Samples show the predominant troubles originating from races 2 and 5. But samples are also picking up race 1, 10, and 6.

“To my knowledge, we've yet to see any race 3 or race 14. Many seed companies claim their varieties have resistance to those races. We've grown the same soybeans for so many years it appears that we've put selection pressure on the new races. That was our suspicion all along, but the nematode analyses is confirming it.”

For many of these races there aren't a lot of varieties with good resistance. Ashlock and colleagues are now trying to get an educational program in place for 2002.

“If a grower has these races in his fields, our advice will likely be to consider other crops that help control the nematodes. I was asked by a grower if I thought corn and sorghum acreage might increase as a result of nematode findings. I do think there will be more of those two crops and of rice.”

While nematodes are only one of several problems that developed in Arkansas' soybean crop, Ashlock says, “We still have a decent crop. Beans that growers were able to manage closely are okay. We're closing in on 40 percent harvested in the state. We're cutting Group 4s in northern Arkansas and Group 5s in the southern part of the state. We're seeing a lot of 50- and 60-bushel yields.”

Blaine says he's hearing a lot of troubling statements from farmers. “I hate to say it, but many folks are working off emotion. Make no mistake about it: what's happened this year is terrible. But I keep hearing, ‘I'm never planting Group 4s again. I'm never planting early again.’ The thing is, I can take those folks to growers who planted Group 3s that were harvested before the rainy weather hit. Their yields were great.”

It isn't an early planting problem, nor a maturity group problem, says Blaine. What happened was that 50 percent of the Mississippi crop was maturing or nearing maturity when the heavy rains and cloud cover settled in. The amount of damage on that 50 percent varied anywhere from slight to 100 percent abandonment. Blaine says damage is variable throughout the state, although it's generally confined to the lower two-thirds of Mississippi.

“We have a backlog at the elevators because growers were dumping so many crops at the same time. There were damaged beans coming in with high moisture levels that wouldn't come down. Some of the beans had reached a state of deterioration that can't be remedied.

“The elevators wanted some good soybeans to blend with the damaged ones. That bogged things down for a while because for a long time there weren't any good beans being delivered. That's changing now, though, and should mean the elevators will be able to move beans through faster,” says Blaine.

Insects, particularly stinkbugs, hurt soybean crops across the Delta.

“Growers have spent a lot of money to control pests. The stinkbug was a persistent nuisance, and we're still talking about it. It was a close call on whether or not to treat. I suspect some fields were treated,” says Ashlock.

Ashlock is seeing problems now that stinkbugs started back in early summer. “There are fields with very poor pod-set that wouldn't mature. Some of the blame for that must be laid at the feet of the stinkbug. It's been a real problem in Arkansas.”

Regarding stinkbugs, it's hard to imagine next year being any better, says Ashlock. “Maybe we'll get a very hard winter and get rid of some. It's doubtful we'll get such a winter, though. It'd take a blizzard, I think.”

Blaine agrees. “Anybody surprised by stinkbugs this year hasn't been paying attention. I've been saying for three years that stinkbugs were marching our way. All the signs were there: mild winters, lack of rainfall along with numbers of the pest building and spreading.

“Mark it down, stinkbugs will be back next year, too. A hard winter would help, but to be honest I don't think it can get cold enough. At the numbers we have currently, there will be plenty that survive this coming winter,” says Blaine.

Phomopsis is a disease that causes seed deterioration and, like aflatoxin, is always present in soybean fields. And just like aflatoxin, certain conditions make it worse.

Leading up to Labor Day, some Mississippi soybean fields got 14 to 20 inches of rain, heavy dews, fog and cloud cover. The crop was wet for a long time. But apparently, in developing phomopsis the rain wasn't necessary, just the other conditions, says Blaine.

“That's my belief because there are growers with this problem north of Highway 6 that only got several inches of rain. They had the other conditions, though.”

At Arkansas elevators there has been plenty of dockage for insect damage. In southeast Arkansas, Ashlock says, farmers are seeing problems associated with phomopsis. In some cases, Ashlock believes phomopsis troubles may have been enhanced because of stinkbug pressures.

Ashlock also says boron problems have been found in the Arkansas.

“It's relatively new, but I've seen it on occasion before in the Fair Oaks area. I thought other things might be contributing to the symptoms I was seeing.

“This year, however, we got into a lot more of the problem in east Woodruff County, Cross County and west Poinsett County. Several soil scientists are convinced the plant tissue and soil itself are low in boron. This is contributing to the terminal die-back we're seeing.

“We're also seeing aerial blight emerge. We finally got some rains in southeast Arkansas — maybe too much rain. Those rains have contributed to aerial blight in that part of the state and around Corning, Ark. We've seen significant aerial blight which has contributed to further delaying maturity of soybean plants,” says Ashlock.

Following the extended period of wet conditions, Blaine dug into weather records. It turns out Mississippi received the most rain it's ever had in August. The last time the state had August similar conditions — overcast, no sun for an extended period — was in 1957. Blaine points out farmers weren't growing a lot of early crops then.

“Growers who are really jittery need to focus on that. If they want to jump back to growing Group 6s, they can have at it. But they should keep in mind that if we'd had a bunch of Group 6s last year, they'd have burned up. Only 25 percent of our acreage is irrigated.

“This year, we planted a lot of irrigated soybeans early to eliminate pumping early and insect control costs on the tail end. That works. But we had so much of the crop ready at one time — the wrong time as it turns out — that everyone needs to rethink his situation. If you're growing a lot of corn and rice, you probably don't want to grow a lot of Group 4s unless you have a way to get them out quickly. I contend that dryland Group 4 soybeans are the best gig in town.”

In essence, the Delta experienced an extended hurricane with no wind, says Blaine. “Louisiana has already declared a disaster. Mississippi, Arkansas and portions of Texas are in the same damaged boat. We ought to be in there declaring a disaster, too. There will be some growers unable to farm next year without help. This is worse than anything I've ever seen before. I admit the current military struggle overshadows our situation here. But my hope is that in this time the need to keep our farms and food safe is impressed upon the nation's leaders.”

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