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Soybean harvest on again

As November took over from October, rains finally eased across a waterlogged Mid-South and many of the region’s producers were able to restart harvest. Still weeks behind and facing yet-to-crest rivers and a forecast predicting more rain the week of Nov. 9, harvest had picked up even more urgency.

By Nov. 6, Mississippi soybeans were about 70 percent harvested. The last third will “take some time and be fairly slow going,” says Trey Koger, Mississippi Extension soybean specialist. “Probably half that 30 percent is in really bad shape. So, there’s 15 percent of our total crop that might be abandoned.”

Is there an area of the state with more of that 15 percent?

“Those are spread out. At the same time, it’s important to say that there are also good beans sporadically throughout the state. However, the vast majority of good beans are very late-planted Group 5s north of Highway 6 — basically the northern quarter of Mississippi. Don’t forget, we had a particularly late-planted crop in the north.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to soybeans in terrible shape, it isn’t a “straight-forward, black-and-white decision” on whether to harvest. Insurance often comes into play. Poor soybeans on heavy clay “will be difficult to cut. It’ll rut the fields up and you can hardly sell them. If you do sell them, you may get $2.50 to $3 from a salvage buyer. Given that kind of price versus the cost to harvest and deliver, it’s a lot to consider.”

In Arkansas, beans in the north part of the state are better than those in the south. “The south has some really bad situations — Ashley, Chicot, Desha and Drew counties are especially hard-hit,” says Jeremy Ross, Arkansas Extension soybean specialist. “But beans are being docked all over. Before the dry weather came in, just about every load from fields around Weiner (located in north-central Arkansas) was being docked around 10 percent.

“Around the state, a lot of seed is damaged. I talked to one dryer who told me dockage was ranging anywhere from 1 percent to 100 percent. It’s scattered.”

Some of Tennessee’s earliest beans had “pretty good yields and quality,” says Angela Thompson, Tennessee Extension soybean specialist. Then, Group 3s and 4s were hit with rains for up to six weeks. After that, “yields have been good but quality has been a problem. I hope we’re at least 90 percent done with corn. We may be 50 to 60 percent finished with beans. Beans planted later are showing better yields and quality. Hopefully, we’re on the upswing.”

But fields are still wet in much of Tennessee. Farmers are keeping an eye on the Mississippi River because “it appears it’ll flood bean acreage. Farmers are trying to get as much harvested as possible before some of those fields are expected to go underwater.”

Fields around the Dean Lee Station in Alexandria, La., have had “tremendous” rainfall over the past few weeks, says Ronnie Levy, LSU AgCenter soybean specialist. “Finally, there was a dry spell where we were able to get in a harvest. We’ve been harvesting some pretty good soybeans around the station. Damage has been at about 8 to 10 percent.”

Pleasantly surprised, Levy has harvested “some late Group 4s with very little damage. But there are reports of fields with significant damage. It’s hard to be too happy knowing there are folks right down the road with a terrible crop.

“Probably 70 to 80 percent of the state’s soybeans have been harvested. Hopefully, we’ll have that at 85 to 90 percent before the next wet weather event.”

Around Alexandria, “if you start cutting at noon, moisture is at about 15 percent. A couple of hours later and it’s at 13 percent. You just have to wait for the dew to dry.”

Levy says one especially rainy area of Louisiana is the northeast. “A lot of beans there were Group 4s and during the season they were hit with drought stress on top of the rains.”

Overall, Levy expects Louisiana will average around 36 to 38 bushels per acre. “That’s a little deceptive because there are some farms and areas were hit hard. In the Concordia area, big acreage cut in the teens or single digits.”

David Lanclos, who works Mississippi and Louisiana as Syngenta tech service representative for the south Delta, says farmers are holding a “really mixed bag. At this point, it’s breaking out into maturity groups. Anyone with Group 4s has seen much higher damage.”

Lanclos has heard positive things from elevators. “Of course, some folks are running 20 to 25 percent damage. Others are running higher than that and having to sell beans as salvage.

“The positive news is the later-planted beans have weathered the storms a lot better and the quality is still okay. Farmers are able to get rid of them, although I’m not saying there isn’t any dockage. But it isn’t near as bad as it was looking a couple of weeks ago.

“Talking to farmers, most tell me they’re in a breakeven situation. Others are looking at a loss, unfortunately. It definitely won’t be a record year, not a money-making year for most producers. I’m trying to be an optimist but it isn’t entirely good out there. There are a lot of farmers in breakeven situations — and that’s not where we want farmers to be. They need to be profitable.

“Mother Nature continues to throw screwballs at us but at least the crops are finally coming out. It’s been a tough go.”

Another positive: earlier reports of sprouting and pod-splitting have eased.

“That’s calmed down quite a bit,” says Thompson. “We saw that in September and early October in mature beans that had been through three weeks of rain. There was some sprouting but a lot of what we had was just moldy seed and disease that set in late.”

Koger has a similar report. “The splitting/sprouting is gone. We’re now dealing with 100 percent damage to some fields — brown, black, rotted seed.”

And elevators are “being very picky. To a large extent, they’ve maxed out on the bad beans they can take. They can only take so many and can’t handle many more. There’s nowhere to put them.”

Looking ahead to 2010, what about soybean seed quality concerns?

“People are talking about that,” says Lanclos. “And Arkansas’ dilemma is a major issue because a lot of seed comes from there. However, a lot of companies outsource farther north than Arkansas.

“It would be unrealistic to not be concerned. Maybe we’ll see a situation where certain varieties may not have as much seed as normal. But seed companies will provide everything they can with good germ.”

Levy has talked to seed industry folks and “because of the problems in the recent past, they had a little more contracted in case there were problems. It appears a lot of seed came out early and looks good, from what I was told. Of course, that’s what is being said now — the full story will be told later. Hopefully, early reports are right.”

In Mississippi “we still don’t know exactly where our seed production beans stand,” says Koger. “We’ve lost some, no doubt, and there are some that will be questionable from a quality standpoint.

“But from what I’ve heard, we’ll be okay. There will be enough seed to go around. I don’t think it’ll be as bad as what it was a couple of years ago but there’s uncertainty out there.”

All interviewed said harvesting in wet conditions has left Mid-South fields terribly rutted.

“That means more money and headaches for farmers in field prep,” says Lanclos. “The fields being harvested right now will require a lot of attention to get ready for spring planting.”

Koger agrees. “You’ll have to get the fields back into shape and are unlikely to get that done this fall. That means growers will be working fields in the spring and could mean a later planted crop for some. All of that added together isn’t very attractive in fields where the beans might be abandoned.”

Asked about what winter meeting topics might be hot, Koger says, “Take out the disaster assistance, farm sales and folks going broke and the biggest thing will probably be how to make a good crop while pinching pennies. There’s not a lot of money going around, right now, and everyone will be looking for opportunities to save money. We need to have the right balance — not to cut back so much that you cut out needed profits.”

Lanclos admits “it’s very difficult for Syngenta to promote what we normally do with things like herbicide resistance management. People want to go with the cheapest programs possible and they can’t be faulted for that. They’re financially strapped and being forced.”

Even so, “for those farming long-term, it’s important to consider mode of action/rotation. Those are effective tools for managing not only next year’s pests but those further into the future.”

Koger says Mid-South growers should know “we’re pursuing every disaster payment assistance avenue in D.C. We don’t know what we’ll get at this point. But everyone in the tri-state region (Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi) has done well from a policy standpoint to make D.C. aware that this is a devastating situation. We need some help, quickly.”


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