Up and down the Mid-South, growers and consultants are pushing to plant. The weather seems to be pushing back. So what stage is planting operations in the region in? Two growers and one consultant give updates on their areas.
When Dundee, Mississippi grower Abbott Myers starts planting, what crop will he start with? “We’ll start with rice, soybeans and corn,” he says. “Whatever ground dries up first, we’ll plant. We’ll have at least four planters running. We have been and still are wet.
“In my area to the west of my operation, south of Tunica, one farm planted a hundred plus acres of beans mid last week. To the northeast of me, they managed to get some corn and soybeans planted. I haven’t heard of anyone planting rice yet. Mid last week, they started planting corn and doing fieldwork on cotton ground north of Tunica up to Walls.
“I farm all heavy ground, all irrigated," Myers says. "I would like to get all my corn planted this week. If necessary, I’ll plant corn to the end of April.”
In northeast Louisiana, some parishes that received less rainfall than adjoining parishes are planting heavily or wrapping up planting in some instances. “Concordia Parish is a lot drier than surrounding parishes, so we probably have more acres of corn planted down there, as well as rice and beans,” says Vidalia, Louisiana, consultant Cecil Parker. “In Concordia, Tensas and Catahoula parishes, most everybody planted some corn earlier, and had some to replant or spot plant, such as low ends of the field that are slow to drain. Cold, wet sand was a big one; those areas are the highest part of the fields, but it was cold, wet sand and the corn just didn’t come up. Two of my growers didn’t have to hardly spot plant corn; other growers had to spot in 25 percent of their acreage because of holes and such.
“Most of my growers in Concordia Parish have all their rice planted, and some of it is up. They didn’t get all the corn planted that they wanted because of wet fields, and the Mississippi River being too high; seepwater prevented them from planting along the levee. That unplanted corn ground will fall back to soybeans. To the north of us in Tensas Parish, the ground is wetter, and growers are just now getting started planting beans and rice. They had much less corn go in; they planted about 50 percent of their intended corn acreage. The farther north you go, the less acreage is planted overall.
“Some growers planted beans two weeks ago, and 10 days later the crop began coming out of the ground. In Concordia Parish we have beans and rice already up.”
More sprayers than cars
Hayti, Missouri cotton grower Patrick Turnage says planting preparation and planting operations are compressed this spring. “We’re hipping up rows, burning down and everything else — we’re trying to condense two months of work into a week,” he says. “Nothing happened in the field until Monday, April 6. No tillage, no spraying, no planting—all weather related.
“The first corn I heard planted in the area was on April 6. Some growers are planting 24 hours, taking shifts. The only thing going up and down the road is scrap iron: tractors and sprayers. There are more sprayers on the road than cars because of the coronavirus. There’s nothing on the interstate but trailer trucks.
“We normally plant cotton anywhere from April 19 to the end of May because we never plant June cotton. We absolutely have plenty of time to start planting cotton in a timely manner. We didn’t start planting cotton in 2019 until May 16, and we finished May 31.
“I waited to plant cotton last year until the conditions were right. Some area growers who planted prior to that had to replant some or all of it. With the technology we have now, we can wait for a prime time, and look for a good forecast. It’s 83 degrees up here today. We were sweating at 8:00 this morning. The forecast for Friday is a low of 30 degrees. In olden days, somebody would start planting cotton today, and the crop would probably die Saturday. But they didn’t have an iPhone or an internet or a weather channel. They had the Almanac. Financially, we have one shot at planting. So let’s be patient, let’s be smart, let’s take our time. With the planting power and the technology and the equipment we have today, we can quickly plant the crop in good soil conditions.
“With less corn planted so far, whether that ground will go into cotton will be determined when the planter is sitting on the turnrow, and the lids are open, and no seed is being poured into them yet and what the market is that day. There’s still plenty of time to plant dollar cotton, but nobody wants to plant 50 cent cotton except a cotton farmer or someone who owns a gin. Or someone who has two new round bale pickers coming.”
“Some growers can get in and out or fluctuate different crop acreage up or down through custom harvesting. There’s nothing wrong with diversity to spread your risk. All of it’s bad when you put a calculator to it, but we still have the potential to have an awesome year because right now our inputs are cheaper than they were last year. It’s the cheapest diesel we can buy. Fertilizer prices are down.
“Additionally, we’ve had a really wet spring, but the fields are not grown up with weeds. It’s been cold so we’re not as grown up as we were this time last year.”