Crop consultants Eddie Cates and Trent LaMastus expect clients to increase cotton acreages in 2019, cut back on soybeans, keep corn flat or down slightly, and possibly add a little rice.
Those early assumptions depend on several factors, chief among them being preparing land following a late harvest season and a wet winter.
Cates, who works northeast Arkansas, says farmers were harvesting soybeans Jan. 25. “That’s later than I have ever seen harvest,” he says.
LaMastus says soybean and cotton harvest extended well into December in Mississippi.
They agree that late harvest will complicate field prep for 2019 planting.
Fields in poor shape
Cates says the late harvest, in wet conditions, will leave fields in poor shape. “Some producers will have to work those fields four or five times to get ready to plant,” he says.
“We’re kinda in a mess.”
That extra time will squeeze planting season and could mean switching variety or crop options.
“A lot of growers will back off soybeans and increase cotton and corn,” LaMastus says, “if they can get cotton and corn ground worked up in time. It has been wet, so field prep has been delayed.”
Cates says the extra tillage may stimulate weed problems, too, especially in soybeans. Tillage will dry the soil, leaving little moisture to activate pre-emergence herbicides.
“We will need dicamba technology this year,” he adds. “If it gets dry in May and we stay dry for 10 days and don’t get those herbicides activated, pigweed will come through.”
Cates adds that some open weather in February and March would promote field preparation.
As of late January, Arkansas farmers were not certain if in-season dicamba applications would be permitted. “We don’t know if we will have an April 15 or a May 20 cutoff.”
One option he thinks might be useful is to apply Engenia pre-emerge, along with other pre-emergence herbicides, “as a precaution.”
But he’s hoping Arkansas farmers will be permitted to use the technology in-season. That decision will be made by the Arkansas Plant Board.
Late planting and the pending Plant Board decision could affect crop options. Cates says without dicamba, soybean farmers may switch to Liberty Link or Roundup Ready varieties, but he’s concerned that by the time they get fields ready to plant, the options may be limited.
“Soybean growers may not be able to find the best varieties that late,” he says.
Regardless of field preparation challenges and availability of dicamba technology, Cates says rotation remains an important part of producers’ production strategies.
Soil moisture monitoring
LaMastus says he will encourage his clients to continue with soil moisture monitoring, a program he introduced five years ago to improve water use efficiency. “Moisture sensors have been well-received,” he says.
He also says most farmers will refrain from cutting back on fertility, especially in cotton, this year. “Some got hurt by cutting back on fertilizer in early cotton last year,” he says.
“If you take care of the land, it will take care of you.”