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Farmers sizing up crops

“The weather has been weird. But no more cold weather than is being forecasted right now, we should be okay. There was a lot of purple wheat in the state. If any of the purple wheat hasn’t responded to this warmer weather, producers may need to put out some phosphorous,” says William Johnson, Arkansas Extension wheat, corn and milo specialist.

As in Arkansas, Louisiana has seen its fair share of purple wheat as well.

“We aren’t having a lot of trouble with wet soils. We aren’t seeing leaf rust yet. We did have some purple wheat that I attribute to cold weather. Since it’s warmed up, the purpling has diminished,” says Ed Twidwell, Louisiana Extension wheat specialist.

While geese haven’t done much in Louisiana, they have been a problem in Arkansas and Mississippi. Some Arkansas fields have already been fertilized to help the crop recover from the unwanted, dining birds.

“Geese are always trouble. There probably haven’t been quite as many geese in Mississippi this year because of the warm weather. But it doesn’t take many to cause a lot of destruction.

“This year, actually, the geese have probably caused more damage to our wheat crop. The wet soils have allowed the birds to grub up the base of the plant much easier. And if the geese stay through February, they’ll really do some damage. That’s because wheat usually enters the jointing stage during February. A goose simply pulling off the above ground portion of a plant after it joints will destroy the plant. Hopefully, the geese will leave,” says Erick Larson, Mississippi Extension wheat and corn specialist.


Arkansas wheat acreage, according to USDA, is pegged at 1 million acres.

“I thought we’d have more acres than that,” says Johnson.

The state’s wheat is already seeing a lot of leaf rust, particularly in the south. Johnson says this is possibly the earliest he’s ever seen such amounts.

“In our Lafayette County variety trial near Texarkana, the leaf rust is terrible. Leaf rust is being seen as far north as Dumas. Leaf rust blows up from the southwest. It’s overwintered in our state and can cause an epidemic.”

As far as corn, seed is becoming increasingly scarce as cotton farmers are turning to more corn. Johnson says so much interest in corn and milo have meant meetings that are a bit “off the normal course. We’re not having a bunch of formal meetings. We just get a room and farmers come in and we give them the A to Z of growing corn or milo.

“I’m heading to a meeting in Lake Village with a group of farmers who have never grown corn. They’re going to corn this year, though. I’ve got another similar meeting tomorrow in Wilmot.”

Nematode problems in the state will mean Arkansas’ grain sorghum acreage will jump big-time – maybe triple, says Johnson. Nematodes hammered the state’s soybeans last year.

“This past year, we had about 170,000 acres of milo. This year, we should have between 350,000 and 500,000 acres.”

Johnson suspects most of the milo will go into soybean ground. But he says “a good chunk” will go into root-knot nematode infested cotton land.

“I was at a meeting in Helena recently. Several cotton farmers said they’d be planting big milo acres instead of cotton. The reason they gave was that milo will cash flow and cotton won’t.”

Delivered to Memphis right now, milo is 10 cents better than corn. Typically, milo is 10 cents to 15 cents under corn on a per-bushel basis.

“The reason for the switch, from what I’ve been told, is Mexico is taking milo and using it for a lot of food production. They don’t want corn as much because it’s a GMO. They’re making chips and feed and everything else out of milo.”

Arkansas will likely be going the milo route solo. It’s unlikely other Delta states will be so keen on the crop.

“Last year, in Louisiana and southern Mississippi they had problems with milo heads sprouting. The rainy weather caused some ugly milo there. But in Arkansas, we had record yields. We had an 87-bushel average, which beat our old record by 7 bushels.”

Corn, meanwhile, beat the state record by 15 bushels with a 145-bushel average.


Mississippi has received its fair share of rain the last few months. The wheat crop is suffering as a result.

“Our wheat needs dry weather more than anything. It’s already time to start thinking about nitrogen applications. The bad thing is if we get any appreciable rain not only will we lose nitrogen through leaching but the plants won’t be able to utilize the nitrogen anyway,” says Larson.

Most of the wheat, even though it had water on it, has lived. Temperatures have been cool enough for the crop to make it, says Larson. The wheat was in good condition until December. The fall had been relatively warm and the plants had plenty of growth.

“But a grass crop like wheat doesn’t handle wet conditions very well. Mississippi’s wheat is planted on soils that typically aren’t as well drained as those in Arkansas. That causes us a little more difficulty.”

USDA has Mississippi’s wheat acreage estimated at 250,000 acres. Larson thinks that’s pretty close.

And as mentioned earlier, Mississippi probably won’t see many milo acres this year. Farmers are gun-shy with the crop.

“The rainfall last Labor Day destroyed milo still in our fields. There was some milo with sprouting heads. I suspect most farmers have had their fill of milo.”

Corn, though, is a different situation, says Larson. Last year Mississippi had 400,000 acres. This year, Larson expects corn acreage to jump to between 500,000 and 700,000 acres.

“The market outlook for every crop isn’t terribly good. But growers perceive that the cotton insurance program might not be nearly as rosy this year. We also had an extremely good corn crop last year – we beat the old yield record by more than 10 percent.

“Actually, Mississippi has been doing very well with corn. The state didn’t break the 60-bushel per acre barrier until 1982. Since then, the state average yields have more than doubled. That’s lead to more acreage.”

Something else that’s played a part in more Mississippi corn was the 1996 Farm Bill, says Larson. That bill allowed farmers to utilize corn in a rotation program. Those in a long-term rotation program with two or three crops are seeing plenty of agronomic benefits. Many producers have picked up on that.

“Corn seed for the hot varieties – just about any of the better hybrids – are spoken for. I don’t know if ‘sold out’ is the right way to describe the lack of seed but it’s getting very scarce,” says Larson.


According to Twidwell, Louisiana wheat is looking pretty good.

“We’re at about 170,000 acres – which is more wheat than we originally expected. We had about 150,000 acres of wheat last year. In the northern part of the state, when we got into November and it was dry, farmers put in a bunch of wheat. They saw the weather was good and holding and took advantage of it.”

Twidwell says producers are hoping for a good spring.

“With our fluctuating temperatures – we were in the 80s last week and are in the 50s now – we could be set up for some disease problems. Disease problems affect Louisiana wheat more than anything else.”

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