Mid-South soybean farmers are taking advantage of any break in rainy weather to plant what most observers expect to be a significant bump in acreage over last year.
Planting progress is running ahead of schedule in Louisiana but delayed in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee, according to Extension specialists. Those specialists say producers have plenty of time to catch up if they get decent weather.
In Mississippi, Extension soybean specialist Trent Irby reports about 60% of the state's anticipated acreage was planted by May 12.
Angela McClure, University of Tennessee Extension specialist, says farmers had planted only about 20% of anticipated acreage by April 12.
Arkansas is about 35% planted, "probably a little more than that since a few got some beans planted over the weekend (May 9-10)," says Jeremy Ross. "That's 10 points behind the five-year average, 45%."
"Louisiana soybean producers have made significant progress in planting over the previous two weeks," says Extension soybean specialist David Moseley. He says USDA estimates put planting progress at 68% by May 10 with 46% emerged.
"The 2020 soybean planting season continues to be ahead of 2019. The progress of the 2020 planting season was even with the five-year average until April 26 but is now tracking slightly faster."
All agree that planting progress will catch up with decent weather, which has been rare this spring.
"We have had some challenges with weather, depending on where in the state you’re located," Irby says. "Some areas have been able to plant and get good stands of beans; other areas have planted and had to replant following heavy rains and cool temperatures.
"It hurts my feelings to say this considering how much rainfall we have had over the past months, but we do have many areas that will soon need some rain. If it doesn’t rain this weekend, planting may have to stop and wait for enough moisture for germination."
"We're not too far behind," Ross says. "If we get decent weather, we can plant a tremendous amount of soybeans in a rapid fashion. Two years ago, we planted 60% of our soybeans in a four-week period."
He says decent days for field work in Arkansas have been "few and far between. In the last six weeks, we've averaged just a bit more than three days per week suitable for field work."
And that's a little misleading. "About the time conditions improved enough to get in the field we got another rain.
"I'm not too concerned; we are well ahead of where we were last year. More rain and more flood last year put us at only 20% at this time."
He says the long-range forecast indicates a dry spell following the next round of rain, and an opportunity to plant more.
"We've heard reports that some Louisiana soybean fields were negatively affected by heavy precipitation during the last week of April, with some fields possibly requiring a replant," Moseley says.
He refers producers to a recent article in the Louisiana Crops Newsletter (April) on replant decisions. "The article suggests stand counts below 70,000 to 75,000 plants per acre may result in lower yields. Besides potential increase in yield, the economics of replanting should be considered," he says.
McClure says producers have faced "persistent rain, saturated fields, and cool to cold temperatures that slowed emergence and development of corn and beans. We had very few breaks in the rain in March and April. Along the rivers especially, guys haven’t been able to get into the field for three weeks.
"We had sun yesterday (May 13) and sun and a drying wind today," she says. "Humidity and temps are up. Today was the first day I could actually see a positive change in our corn around here."
Soybean acreage increasing
Soybean acreage across the region will increase. Irby expects "north of 2 million acres in Mississippi." He says soybean acres are picking up some intended corn acres that couldn’t be planted, and others are shifting out of intended cotton to soybeans.
Ross anticipates close to 3 million acres in Arkansas. "That's much improved from last year's 2.65 million acres, which was the lowest since the 1960s."
He says Arkansas' final bean acreage could be a little more; beans might gain a little from cotton. "It's still fluid. I don’t think everyone got all the corn planted they wanted, but some are still trying to plant more rice, still trying to get seed."
He says rice acreage likely will push higher than early season estimates. "Soybeans will hold their own, even if the price is not great. If producers can't get rice seed or didn't get corn in, their fallback is soybeans. They can put beans in at a lower cost than other commodities."
He's hoping prevent planting will not be the issue it was last year.
Moseley says Louisiana parish agents estimate 850,000 acres of soybeans. "The USDA estimated 980,000. We hear talk that increased acres of soybeans may result from cotton prices and too much rain preventing corn planting."
McClure says Tennessee growers have been returning corn seed for a few weeks "because of planting delays and lackluster prices, so the percent planted is really a moving target. In some counties, growers will stay pretty close to intended acreage in their corn/soy rotation and in others we expect a pretty big shift to soybeans."
The March 31 USDA panting intentions estimate puts Tennessee soybean acreage at 1.5 million acres, up 100,000 acres from last year.
Specialists watching for in-season challenges anticipate problems with red-banded stink bugs.
"Scouts have reported the red-banded stink bug in several areas around the state," Irby says. "It is reasonable to figure that we will be dealing with this insect in several areas at some point this season."
"We have identified red-banded stinkbug adults, nymphs, and eggs" while walking fields in mid-May, Moseley says. He says an article he co-wrote with LSU AgCenter entomologists Sebe Brown and Jeff Davis in February indicated a good chance of a greater population of red-banded stinkbugs in 2020 due to a mild winter. "When walking the fields yesterday (May 12), there was some talk that it may be one of the largest populations of red-banded stinkbugs this early."
"The biggest concern this year is that we are already catching red-banded stink bugs, which have not been a problem the last couple of years," Ross says.
He says observers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas have been doing counts in row ditches and cover crops. "Numbers are up over the last couple of years; that's a little alarming. Red-banded stink bugs are harder to control than other stink bugs. They cause more damage at a quicker pace."
He says corn earworm or bollworms are always a threat, "but we have pretty good control options. The heligen virus product works well if we get it out at the right time in the right conditions."
He says bollworms pose problems because they can "blow up at fast pace."
Oher concerns include disease pressure and ramifications from the COVID-19 virus.
"I don’t think the virus has affected Tennessee agriculture too much," McClure says. "Farmers are back to business as usual. I haven’t heard of employee issues. Maybe supply/delivery issues have affected some producers."
"Low prices and fluctuating markets are an ongoing concern," Ross says. "And we are concerned about what COVID-19 will do the rest of the summer. I have not talked to anyone who has been significantly hurt so far."
He says he knows farmers who were not able to get all their needed migrant workers in before the shutdown. "They are not shorthanded, but they could use a couple more hands to spread work out a bit.
"It's a new world we're living in. It's just odd, figuring out what we can and can't do with social distancing. But that's not a big issue with farmers; they don't congregate a lot except at the coffee shop." And that is rare at planting time.
Ross pretty well sums up the feelings of the other specialists about getting on with planting.
"We are just trying to get planted, and unless something blows up, we should be all right this year."