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Big grain crops may mean farmers need to replenish nutrients levels in Mid-South corn, beans

Mississippi producers appear to be on track to harvest a soybean crop of about 48 bushels per acre and a corn crop of around 178 bushels per acre as a result of near-perfect growing conditions earlier this summer.

Those projected statewide average yields are significantly higher than what growers were harvesting just a few years ago, and it may signal the need for them to take another look at how much phosphorus, potassium and lime they’re putting back in the soil.

“With the crops we’re growing today a lot of our recommendations are based on much lower-yielding corn crops and soybean crops that we’ve had in the past,” says Wayne Ebelhar, research professor at Mississippi State University’s Delta Research and Extension Center at Stoneville. Ebelhar was interviewed prior to the Late Season Field Day at the station.

“A lot of our producers don’t really have any idea of what we’re pulling out of the soil. They’re used to 20- and 30-bushel soybeans. The projected yield this year on soybeans is up to 48 bushels; corn is projected this year as high as 178 bushels, which actually would be a record yield for us if we get that.

“When you start looking at how much phosphorus and potassium is actually removed from that grain seed, it’s actually greater than our maximum recommendations are. Hopefully, this will be the third good grain yield in a row. We’ve had record yields the last two years, and, especially for corn and soybeans, it looks to be as good this year as it has been for the last two years.”

Ebelhar says that growers who aren’t soil-testing need to know how much P and K and sulfur and micronutrients they’re actually removing from the field, and “these guys that have been getting by with using no phosphorus or potassium on soybeans over the years are seeing a lot more deficiency symptoms showing up, especially with potassium on soybeans and cotton.

“We’re seeing zinc deficiencies and sulfur deficiencies showing up, and it’s because we’re removing so much more now than we were just 10 years ago.”

Ebelbar, a graduate of the University of Kentucky who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, was asked if he ever expected to see as much corn growing in the Mid-South states as he’s seen in recent years.

“I came to work at Mississippi State in November of 1980 from the Land of Lincoln that grows from 12 million to 13 million acres of corn a year,” he said. “When I came to Mississippi, corn yields were about 30 to 40 bushels per acre on about 50,000 acres. In the 1930s, Mississippi had 4 million acres of corn for the horses and mules. When tractors came along that fell to nothing.”

Now with irrigation, with hybrids that are being developed for the South, Mississippi farmers have produced as high as 250, 260 to 270 bushels of corn per acre or better than some Midwestern areas.

“Even though we’re in a 54-inch rainfall area, irrigation is the key because of the stability of corn yields,” he said. “This year, I have at least six tests that I’ll be harvesting in the next couple of weeks that have not been watered this summer. I’ve been here 33 years, growing corn 20 of those, and that’s the first year I can remember when we didn’t irrigate corn.”


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