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Rain threatens soybeans, sorghum

Excessive rainfall over the first three weeks of September is causing some seed sprouting, pod splitting and quality issues in Mississippi soybeans. Corn and grain sorghum crops in neighboring Arkansas aren’t faring that much better.

Mississippi Extension soybean specialist Trey Koger has seen much of the damage to soybeans first hand having answered over 30 calls from concerned growers in one two-day period.

Koger says that pods splitting open is not something he sees regularly in the state. “In talking with soybean specialists in Virginia and the Carolinas, they’ve seen this issue in years past when a crop goes through a series of environmental stresses, such as dry conditions in early reproductive growth stages, which we saw this year, followed by a lot of moisture in late reproductive growth stages, which we also saw this year.”

In physiological terms, “the pod doesn’t get big enough during the dry period, then as seeds continue to grow due to lots of moisture, the seeds try to fill out and burst the pods. On top of that, where we had seen that pod splitting, with the late rain, we’re seeing a lot of seed rot and quite a bit of sprouting in the pods.”

The pod splitting problem is occurring statewide in Mississippi, according to Koger. On a positive note, it is not that severe within individual fields. Koger estimated that less than 1 percent of total pods in the field are affected with splitting.

Seed sprouting in pods, however, is much more widespread and much more severe and is also a function of excessive wet weather, Koger said.

Koger said seed quality can be preserved in many cases with a well-timed fungicide and/or insecticide application. But this situation is different. “We want to protect soybeans from seed decay, but when we see the levels of rain that we’ve seen for this long a period of time, the seed is deteriorating not due to a disease, but to excess moisture.”

The wet weather had also shut down soybean harvest in most of Mississippi in mid-September, according to Koger. “We were probably about 26 percent harvested at the first part of last week. I don’t think we’ve cut many beans in a week. We’re probably still 26 percent harvested.”

Koger said about half of the state’s soybean acreage is either ready to be harvested or close to being ready. “We have a lot of acres that are very vulnerable to all these weather conditions. Saying that, everything I’ve looked at in the last week or so that looked good prior to all these rains, still look pretty good. The soybeans that looked poor going into all these rains really look bad now.”

Maturation of the soybean crop has slowed down with the cooler, wet conditions as well.

Weeks of rainfall are causing corn and sorghum kernels to sprout on the stalk in many Arkansas fields, said Jason Kelley, Extension agronomist for wheat and feed grains for the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture.

Some corn kernels are sprouting at the tips of the ear, where they’re exposed to water, and some at the base of the ear. “If it has a loose shuck, it’s kind of like a bucket, there’s nowhere for the water to go” providing the kernels plenty of moisture to grow, Kelley said.

The problem is identical to problems last year when the remnants of hurricanes Gustav and Ike came through, Kelley said.

This year, rain early in the season made it difficult to get corn planted and replanted, Kelley noted. “Continued rain early in the season impacted growth and further delayed fertilizer applications, leading to reduced yields in many areas of the state.

“Now, the cool, wet weather has delayed harvest three weeks or more. Overall, state yields will be down, but there is still some good corn being produced this year.”

Jeff Welch, Lonoke County Extension staff chair for the UofA, Division of Agriculture, painted a similar picture for his county.

“We’re probably 30 to 35 bushels off what we need to be. That doesn’t mean we’re not profitable. If we’ve been very frugal in our costs, especially for fertilizer and pesticides; we should still be able to make some sort of profit.”

Sorghum growers who had been waiting for grain to dry to deliver to the terminal, may now be trying to find a market for their grain if seed has sprouted.

“A lot of our grain sorghum is exported, and they want No. 1 and No. 2 grade sorghum,” Kelley said. “Once it’s sprouted, it’s considered damaged. It’s sample grade, which is a much lower grade and there is just not a local market for poor quality grain sorghum.”

Last year, sorghum growers sold some of sprouted grain as livestock feed out-of-state to cattle producers.

Arkansas growers planted 45,000 acres of sorghum in 2009, down from 70,000 acres last year. According to USDA, as of mid-September, 35 percent of the crop had been harvested and 96 percent of the crop was mature.

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