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MORE RAIN HIT Delta cornfields on May 5 promising additional planting delays for the region Watching the clouds roll in was 20monthold Tripp Griffin whose parents  Tracy and Amy  farm outside Helena Ark Photo by Amy Griffin
MORE RAIN HIT Delta cornfields on May 5 promising additional planting delays for the region. Watching the clouds roll in was 20-month-old Tripp Griffin, whose parents -- Tracy and Amy – farm outside Helena, Ark. (Photo by Amy Griffin)

Planting progress – or the lack thereof

The 2013 planting season has been one of the most challenging in recent memories for Mid-South farmers. Frequent rains and soggy fields have kept planters on the sidelines for the most part. Two states, Tennessee and Mississippi, reported no cotton planted by April 28, a time when planters should be rolling.    

A steady procession of weather fronts brought too much rain and not much planting progress for Mid-South farmers during April.

USDA’s crop progress reports reflects what has been a miserable spring season thus far.

Last year at the end of April, Louisiana had 46 percent of its cotton planted. This year, it’s 6 percent. Last year, Arkansas had 42 percent of its cotton planted. This year, it’s 2 percent.  Tennessee and Mississippi hadn’t even scratched.

Few crops, or states, have been spared.

Mississippi rice producers had planted only 13 percent of their intended acreage by the end of April, compared to 93 percent last year. Arkansas is 50 percent off last year’s pace. Soybeans? Not much to talk about there either.

While rice plantings in Louisiana, at 89 percent complete, are on pace with last year, persistently wet fields forced some Louisiana rice producers into water-seeding rice this spring, a practice many had stopped years ago with the advent of Clearfield technology.

Comparing this year’s planting progress to last year’s is a little like comparing a donkey to a thoroughbred. Last year’s planting season was fast and furious, this year’s, just plain infuriating. The planting pace is off from the 5-year average, with more rain expected in May.

The pace of corn planting had slowed to a crawl not only in the Mid-South, but in the larger-producing states in the Midwest. Iowa corn producers reported only 2 percent planted by the end of April, compared to 44 percent last year and a 5-year average of 36 percent. Grain analyst Richard Brock says the pace of corn planting “is the slowest in 20 years.”

According to Erick Larson, Extension grain specialist with Mississippi State University, there could be significant changes in intended acreage for corn in the state if the current weather pattern doesn’t change for the better soon.

“The weather-related issues have delayed a lot of plantings and definitely is going to reduce our planting intentions in the state,” Larson said. “I’m not sure what those numbers will be, but they will be substantial in areas like the north Delta that didn’t plant a lot of corn early. Even the larger growers in the south and central Delta will substantially reduce their planted acreage even more, especially if it continues to rain for the next couple of weeks. Corn producers haven’t had much of a chance to get into the field since the last week of March.”

For corn that has been planted, cold weather slowed down the germination process, according to Larson. “Our temperatures during March were extremely cold, in some cases not even at the minimal level to germinate corn, so some of our early corn was in the ground for up to four weeks. Other than some issues with birds, the wet weather after March 20 was a significant factor in reducing stands and causing skippy, ragged stands. We have reduced populations and a lot of variability.”

Larson says the poor start has limited the yield potential of the Mississippi corn crop. “That being said, our yields are always going to be a lot more dependent upon factors that occur from May through June. What happens during tasseling is a lot more important than what is happening right now. But we definitely are going to have some issues relative to the reduced stands and the variability issues. We have parts of fields that need to be replanted, but producers just haven’t had the opportunity.

Larson said that 2013 planting season “has been the most challenging year since I’ve been here in Mississippi, which is close to 20 years.”

Tunica, Miss., producer Justin Cariker agrees. He started out the year intending to plant 1,800 acres to 1,900 acres of corn. “We’re down to 1,700 acres, but I’m about as blessed as anybody in the county. To achieve that I had to move a lot of acres that I wanted to have in corn to what I was going to plant in cotton. I don’t have corn where I wanted to plant corn, but I do have my acres planted. I had a lot of corn sold at over $6 a bushel, so I had to do whatever it took to get 300,000 bushels of corn planted.”

On the downside, Cariker has “zero cotton, zero rice and zero soybeans planted today. I don’t know of any cotton, rice or soybeans that’s been planted in this area. Last year at this time, we were through planting rice, and almost through planting cotton.”

Cariker says moving crops around to other fields probably won’t affect corn yields “because I put it on some of my better cotton dirt. But I’m going to be putting some of my cotton on some marginal ground. So my cotton yields are probably going to come down some.”

USDA projected a little over a million acres of corn plantings in Mississippi, but Larson says final acreage could fall substantially below that, with acreage going to cotton and soybeans, provided there is a break in the weather to plant them.

The wet, cool spring has also injured the state’s wheat crop, according to Larson. “We normally produce our best wheat yields when we have dry conditions in the late part of the spring. I expect a mediocre crop at best. We could have some good wheat on well-drained soils, but where we have drainage limitations, we could suffer.”

The wheat crop is also well behind schedule in maturity. “A lot of the wheat crop is just now heading out. There have been times when most of all the wheat is headed out by the first week of April. We’re way behind normal, and that is going to push back our wheat harvest, which is also going to push back our potential dates for double-cropping soybeans behind wheat.”

Whatever cropping plans Arkansas producers had at the end of February “were thrown out pretty quickly,” as rainfall overstayed its welcome this spring, said Jason Kelley, Extension wheat and feed grains specialist for the University of Arkansas.

USDA projected that Arkansas producers would plant over a million acres of corn this spring. Kelley sees a final number of around 750,000 acres, although producers were still trying to get acres planted in early May. “A lot depends on what happens over the next few weeks. Of course, there are some producers who were able to plant everything they wanted.

“The rain has just been hard to deal with this year. In a lot of areas we would get a half a day to plant here or a half a day to plant there. We could get everything done in a week, but it’s taken the last six weeks and we’re still not done.”

Cool, wet weather also affected early-planted corn. “The air temperatures were cool, soil temperatures were cool. Quite a bit of corn was planted in the middle of March that took a full month to emerge.

“A lot of those early stands might have been replanted if producers would have had the opportunity. If you have an okay stand, and it’s predicted to rain tomorrow and the next day, a lot of producers just left what they had. We just can’t get a full week of good weather to get it wrapped up.”

Kelly says the Arkansas wheat crop has also suffered this spring, especially where drainage was an issue. “The wheat crop is excellent in places and poor in places,” Kelley said.

“So far, rice planting has been slow and extremely spotty,” said Jarrod Hardke, Extension rice agronomist at the University of Arkansas. “It gets dry for a day or two, so farmers can get some fieldwork done, then we catch another rain. That’s a really tough way to get to 40 percent planted.”

Still another weather front was predicted to slosh across the Mid-South around May 1, narrowing the planting window once again. “We’re still okay in terms of yield potential until about the middle of May, when a lot of other variables start coming into play,” Hardke said.

Early planted rice in Arkansas hasn’t had the warm weather needed to really start growing, but Hardke hasn’t heard of any significant stand reductions. “Over the last two weeks of March, we had 24 percent of the DD-50 units that we had last year. Hopefully, those units are coming, and we can have a normal crop.”

Early planted rice was also a victim of bird damage, noted Hardke. “Some fields truly got hammered. I heard of some fields that got taken entirely out. This is not a problem we typically battle in rice. It’s usually a corn problem.”


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