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Delta corn harvest gets mixed reviews

Arkansas expects near-record crop; some problems in Louisiana Asked to sum up the Mississippi corn harvest in a sentence, Mississippi Extension corn specialist Erick Larson says: "Our corn yields were better than expected." That's especially true of the state's dryland corn, considering the drought stress for much of the season - particularly in the east part of Mississippi.

"We had dryland yields from as low as 50 bushels per acre to reports of 200 bushels per acre. The average should end up around 103 to 105 bushels per acre."

While the state's south Delta region had some very good dryland yields, the further east you travel, Larson says, the more fields missed out on early June rainfall. Yields reflect that.

"Irrigated yields were very good, although they probably weren't as good as last year. I've struggled to find a reason why that is. Last year was extremely favorable for corn production - plentiful moisture through the first of July.

"This year, farmers had to supply that additional water. Those who did a good job ended up with excellent yields like they've had in the past. Those who had limited irrigation had yields that tailed off."

Irrigated yields have run from 150 to 200 bushels per acre in Mississippi.

No part of Mississippi had significant aflatoxin. There were a few reports in the south and scattered through the east part of the state. But those were few and far between, says Larson.

"The main thing for this year is the drought. We started getting scattered rainfall earlier than normal. Usually, we start getting scattered, limited rainfall after July 4. This year, we started getting into that pattern in late May."

May was dry, draining subsoil moisture. Areas that didn't get scattered showers in early June, were running out of water by the end of June. Those are the areas with reduced dryland yields, says Larson.

Pests? "Chinch bugs were trouble in the northeast part of the state - particularly around Tupelo. We had some stinkbugs and cutworms, too."

Larson expects acreage to increase slightly next year. He believes Mississippi would have had a few more acres planted this year except for a couple of things. "Once we passed mid-March, intermittent rainfalls kept some farmers from planting when they wanted to during late March. With delayed planting, many decided to go with alternative crops. If we do get a favorable spring next year, acreage should go up some."

One problem reported in several Delta states early this spring was glyphosate drift. "The wind never died down. But a lot of it was also the fact that much of the corn was planted before March 10. It came up very quickly and burndown applications that went out as early as March 15 killed or injured a lot of the corn that was already up - corn that normally isn't up until April 1. We were running 20 to 40 days early in some fields," says Larson.

Arkansas The Arkansas corn harvest is wrapping up and the state should have a record corn crop, says Extension corn specialist William Johnson. If isn't a record, it'll be close. There are hardly any disappointing reports on corn or grain sorghum.

"The first couple of reports of aflatoxin had us a little on edge, but there were no more reports. That concern just faded away."

Yields? "On dryland our yields have been 100 bushels to around 150 bushels. Irrigated corn has run between 130 bushels and 220 bushels. There have been several fields over 200 bushels," says Johnson.

Like Larson, Johnson says herbicide drift was a big concern early. "I would say drift was the biggest headache we had to deal with this year. Reports of that started coming in very early. A couple of them were airplane troubles. A couple others were done by the farmers themselves. A boom on a grain drill - even in 5-mph winds - will still get drift.

"Some farmers, when they replanted corn, were banding Roundup over the row to kill any of the corn that was already up. That drifted over and killed the corn that was okay."

Arkansas then had some cold, wet weather that showed some phosphorus deficiencies in the crop. Some people thought some of the purpling was from Roundup drift, says Johnson. "But there was no drift pattern. They then looked at the previous crop, which was rice. Behind rice, you'll often see some phosphorus deficiencies."

How has the sorghum crop looked? "A hybrid test at Biscoe, Ark., cut over 10,000 pounds. That's phenomenal. That field was irrigated once. It was going to be dryland, but the county agent told the farmer he thought it would pay off if he watered it once. Obviously, it did."

Another verification field in Piggott, Ark., cut 8,200 pounds - another excellent yield, says Johnson.

Overall, on the bottom land that isn't irrigated, farmers seem to be showing much more interest in grain sorghum, says Johnson. The last couple of years of drought have knocked soybeans badly and farmers are looking for alternatives.

"Sorghum is very good with helping on root-knot nematodes. Normally, if we get any rain in May or June, the moisture is beneficial enough to make a decent sorghum crop. The month of July is when the crop starts drying down."

Farmers who used Gaucho-treated sorghum seed got double the return on money invested, says Johnson.

"I think it costs about $4 or $5 per acre for the treated seed. We ended up making something like $8 to $10 over the treatment costs by using the treated seed. Gaucho takes out the aphids.

"We had to spray one of the verification fields for green bugs and if we'd had Gaucho-treated seed, we probably wouldn't have had to spray."

Louisiana Louisiana's corn crop was very spotty, says Extension corn specialist Walter Morrison.

"Our corn harvest is finished. We had severe problems - both yield and aflatoxin - in the southern part of the state. As harvest moved north, the yields and aflatoxin troubles dissipated. Overall, I think we'll average 125 to 127 bushels per acre. But considering the year, I think that's pretty good."

Farmers don't normally irrigate corn in the southern parishes. It's usually too wet and there's little point.

"This year, irrigating in the south would have paid off. But farmers have to look at the larger picture and the weather pattern we're in probably still doesn't justify irrigating in the south," says Morrison.

The northern irrigated corn probably averaged 140 to 145 bushels, says Morrison. Dryland yields will pull that average down.

"Other than a few parishes (in a 100-year drought), the corn planted in the southern part of the state escaped much of the drought. That's because it was planted considerably earlier than corn in the north. Whether drought or not, though, most parishes south of Alexandria had problems. Four hard-hit parishes are Point Coupee, Avoyelles, St. Landry and Iberville."

This year, Louisiana had problems with Southern green stinkbugs, brown stinkbugs, and Southwestern cornborers. These pests are increasingly common, says Morrison.

"They do seem to be getting worse. We're growing more corn and having warm winters. That's a recipe for these pests' numbers jumping."

The Senate approved permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China, bringing to an end the annual debate over whether the United States should trade with China or punish it for human rights transgressions.

The 83-15 vote was nowhere near as close as some observers had suggested in the months leading up to the Sept. 19 ballot. The House passed PNTR by a similar margin last spring, and the legislation now goes to the president, who is expected to sign the measure.

Farm organizations, most of which had fought long and hard for PNTR, hailed the decision as a breakthrough for improved agricultural trade.

"China's agreement to eliminate trade barriers and open their markets to U.S. farm goods gives producers yet another weapon to fight the low commodity prices we've been struggling to overcome," said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau.

"This is a great one-way deal for U.S. agriculture," said Lynn Jensen, president of the National Corn Growers Association. "We gain access to the largest market in the world - and we give up nothing in return."

In exchange for receiving PNTR and to help clear its way for membership in the World Trade Organization, China has agreed to:

- Reduce agricultural tariffs against U.S. products, including beef, grapes, wine, cheese, poultry and pork, from 31.5 percent to 14.5 percent.

- Establish a tariff-rate quota system for imports of agricultural commodities, including wheat, corn, cotton, barley and rice.

- Permit private trade of U.S. agricultural products in China.

- Eliminate unscientifically based restrictions against U.S. crops and livestock.

- End its own agricultural export subsidies and reduce its domestic subsidies.

"Passage of PNTR will be one for the history books, of profound implication to the United States," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., one of the leading proponents of the legislation.

But Baucus and other supporters said passage of the measure was just the beginning. "Now that it has passed, we Americans have to put our shoulder to the wheel, we have to follow up to make this a truly beneficial development for our farmers and ranchers and other segments of our economy."

Reps. Larry Combest, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and Charles Stenholm, the ranking minority member, praised the vote by the Senate, which could lead to an increase of as much as $2 billion in agricultural exports annually by 2005.

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