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Wet blanket thrown over corn planting

Mid-South farmers wanted to plant more corn this season. But Mother Nature threw a cold, wet blanket over their plans.

Mid-South corn acreage is still expected to increase over last year, according to observers, but it's not likely to be quite as much an increase as USDA projected — an 81 percent increase for Louisiana, 58 percent for Arkansas and 38 percent for Mississippi.

The culprit was cold, wet weather which arrived about the time farmers needed to be in the fields. A break in the weather finally came in April, but it may have been too late for many corn growers as optimum planting dates had passed for many Mid-South fields.

“I think corn acreage will be off 50,000 to 60,000 acres from what USDA projected,” said Arkansas Extension agronomist William Johnson. That would pull expected corn acreage in the state from around 300,000 acres to 240,000 to 250,000 acres.

“Soil temperatures across the state didn't reach 55 degrees until about April 3,” said Johnson. “A lot of the corn planted in March, especially in southwest Arkansas, had to be replanted.”

Johnson said that Arkansas corn planting was about 70 percent complete as of April 20. “Our research data says we can go through May 15 and still have excellent yields with irrigation, but a lot of growers are switching to cotton and rice. Many of them are rice and cotton growers who just didn't feel comfortable planting corn that late.”

Johnson added that Arkansas growers intend to plant much more grain sorghum than USDA has anticipated. “I think we'll see 300,000 to 325,000 acres. A lot of farmers who planned on planting soybeans are seeing stinkbugs in their wheat and are now thinking about going to grain sorghum. They've gotten hammered by stinkbugs the last few years in soybeans.”

Grain sorghum is actually better-priced in Memphis than corn, noted Johnson. “There is a big demand for grain sorghum in Mexico, and the Gulf is an excellent point to get it down to them.”

Apparently, Mexican demand for grain sorghum is rising “because Mexico doesn't want any GMO corn and they know that there are no GMOs in sorghum. Right now, I think Memphis is 28 over (positive basis) for old crop. New crop is 5-6 under. Typically grain sorghum is 90 percent of the corn value. But it hasn't been that way the last couple of years.”

Louisiana growers were expected to increase their corn acreage from 315,000 acres last year to 570,000 acres this year. An informal survey found one parish where acreage will fall below expectations and another where growers have reached their projected plantings.

Robert Goodson, Extension agent for Tensas Parish, says the area will likely plant its expected corn acreage this spring. “Last year, we had 33,000 acres of corn. This year's estimate is around 55,000 acres. Most corn acreage will probably come from cotton.”

In 2001, Tensas Parish planted 107,000 acres of cotton. That will drop to between 75,000 and 80,000 acres in 2002, according to Goodson.

Goodson said Tensas Parish planted most of its corn before April 10 and should wind everything up by the weekend of April 20-21. At that time, corn planting in the parish was about 95 percent complete. “We still have a few growers trying to put some seed in the ground. Most of that is going to be Bt corn.”

Mike Rome, county Extension agent for Madison Parish, one of the largest corn-producing parishes in Louisiana, says growers have finished planting corn and are now turning their attention to cotton.

“It's been kind of tough. We got about 30 percent of our corn planted early (in February). We had another little break in the weather and picked up another 20 to 30 percent.”

“But a lot of our farmers are facing financial problems. Crop loans didn't come through promptly, which would have allowed them to start planting.”

Madison Parish planted 78,000 acres to corn in 2001 and had planned to increase that to 100,000 acres this year. “I anticipate that we'll still have an increase, but we'll plant only about 80,000 acres.”

Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said persistent rains in March and April delayed planting.

“Corn planted in March came up very slowly, but it has started growing quickly due to warm temperatures. However, some stands were flooded out in poorly drained areas,” he said. “Replanting has been a hard decision and a challenge to accomplish as well.”

The latest optimum corn planting date in Mississippi is April 25 in the extreme northern counties. Mississippi growers did have some good luck with late-planted corn last year. “On the positive side, anything planted late is going to grow off quickly, and that should reduce the risk of early-season insect problems,” Larson said.

Mississippi growers were expected to plant 550,000 acres of corn this year, compared to 400,000 acres last year.

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