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Rains keeping Arkansas growers from closing out harvest

A check-in on cotton and soybeans

The weather is proving reluctant to allow the 2018 harvest season to finish out.  

The USDA’s Oct. 15 NASS report “has us at about 65 percent done,” says Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist. “We’ve picked some really good cotton, although some fields haven’t been very good at around 1,000 pounds. But a lot of fields are coming in at over three bales.”

Even so, the frequent waves of rains won’t stop coming.

Around Marianna, where Robertson has plots at the Lon Mann Research Station, “the last rains dumped over five inches in spots. At that point, other Mid-South states had some cotton sprouting in bolls.”

Arkansas, though, dodged that particular problem. “I didn’t see any of that and we were lucky. We didn’t have any wind and had very little cotton fall to the ground. I talked to a lot of growers who said ‘I don’t think I lost even 100 pounds of lint. We didn’t lose that much weight.’

“We had some good, sunny days and I’m sure a lot of the crop bleached out white again. But we can’t get past a few days without rain followed by another storm system. As for the third of the crop still in the field, I’m sure as soon as the cotton dries up enough to where we can roll it up and put it in a module, it’ll be there. We don’t have the luxury of waiting on the fields to dry up.”

As for the state’s soybean harvest, the latest NASS numbers “show us at 44 percent harvested,” says Jeremy Ross, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist. “At this time last year, we were 71 percent harvested. The five-year average is 60 percent so we’re 15 percent down.

“I doubt much has been done since (Oct. 12) and it looks like (the week of Oct. 15) won’t be very productive either. The forecast isn’t looking good either.”

The situation, says Ross, “is pretty bleak, I continue to hear about significant dockage for damaged beans. I wish we had decent weather to get this crop out. The quality we had coming in last week seemed to be a bit better than the previous weeks. But here we go again with more delays in the harvest.

“The one advantage we have now is the temperatures are dropping. It isn’t good for the beans to just sit out there but at least hot temperatures aren’t in the mix to build up mold and mildew and rapid deterioration of the crop.”

The shortening daylight hours are not making things easier, says Robertson. “It seems like just like last week the days were a lot longer! It was almost 7 a.m. this morning before it got light enough to see outside and when the sun does come up it’s staying cloudy.

“I visited with a farmer and he said ‘I’ve mudded crops out before and I’m about to do it again. I don’t like it but that’s where we’re at.’ I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot of ruts in this last bit of cotton we pick. Nothing works well in the mud – it’s hard on machines, hard on everyone. We’ve had some very nice, dry falls in the past few years.”

The good news for cotton: NASS predicts the state will pick its second best yielding crop ever. “We’re well on track for that but I’m a little worried about a hit to quality.”

Robertson still expects cotton acres to jump in 2019. “Between the quality and price, soybean growers are in a bind. The thing is I hear plenty of folks saying ‘I’m about to plant cotton.’ I don’t doubt we’ll see a bunch more acres next year but that opens up some questions. We don’t have the picker capacity we once did. I think if there were more pickers, cotton acres would have been up more this year. Farmers held off.

“It isn’t that cotton looks so great that we’ll plant more acres to generate income to justify buying more pickers. It’s that cotton doesn’t look as bad as the grain crops. Corn is hard to pay out, soybeans are in a really bad place and cotton is the best game in town. I fully understand that but we’ve got to have a game plan for getting it off the stalk.”

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