Arkansas soybean harvest outpaces rest of country; dicamba impacts on yields still unknown

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 187 views 

Arkansas soybean farmers had to whither springtime floods, dicamba drift, and even the remnants of two hurricanes late in the season. Despite those obstacles, about 62% of the 3.5 million acres of soybeans planted in the Natural State had been harvested as of Oct. 8, according to official estimates.

Average yields are projected to be around 48 bushels per acre, similar to last year, University of Arkansas at Monticello agriculture economist Dr. Robert Stark Jr. told Talk Business & Politics. Arkansas is the 11th largest soybean producing state.

Typically, at this time of year only 49% of the state’s crop would be harvested. Nationally, only 36% of the soybean crop is in the bin, down 7% from the national average during the last five years, Stark said. Weather has played a key role in the harvest numbers. Arkansas has had several relatively dry weeks, aiding farmers in the fields, while in some parts of the country, especially the upper Midwest, weather hasn’t been as cooperative.

“We’re bucking the national trends,” he said. “Our farmers have been going full bore.”

The picture is optimistic, but there should still be some caution. Most of the crop yet to be harvested is in Northeast Arkansas, and there could be problems there. Flood waters ravaged many counties in the region in the early spring, causing some farmers to plant later in the season. Soybeans planted later in the season sometimes produce lower yields.

Dicamba also could be a factor in the region.

A ban of the herbicide is slated to go into effect after April 15, 2018 after a slew of damage complaints, primarily from farmers in NEA, especially in Mississippi and Craighead counties began in May this year. Dicamba is used to kill weeds, especially the pigweed, in row crops. It’s primarily used in soybean and cotton production.

Dicamba has been used as an herbicide for more than 50 years to manage 200 broad leaf weeds. It is a Weed Science Society of America Group 4 synthetic auxin – a plant hormone that causes plants to exhibit uncontrolled growth, according to the University of Arkansas. Dicamba works by mimicking auxin, a plant growth hormone, disrupting cell division. It is more volatile in warmer climates.

The Arkansas State Plant Board decided earlier this year to allow one formulation, Engenia dicamba, to be used in the state to fight pigweed, an aggressive weed that has plagued farmers in recent years. About 35% of the state’s 3.5 million soybean acres were planted with genetically-altered dicamba tolerant seeds.

Scientists theorized dicamba was drifting into adjacent crop fields, gardens, and other places. Misapplications, weather conditions, or some other unknown factors may have caused the alleged drift. Tests proved the new formulations were less volatile than older ones, but there was still volatility, and it could last up to 36 hours after it was sprayed. Dicamba can attach to dust particles, meaning it can travel much further from target sites than previously thought.

There hasn’t been enough data collected to determine what impact dicamba damage will have on this crop. Stark said there have been some isolated cases in which significant drift damage hit a particular farm, and many plants had visual damage throughout the region. There’s a difference between damage to the plant and damage to the actual bean, he said.

“I’ll be interested to see what impact dicamba had,” he said.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma dumped rain and winds on row crop fields earlier in the harvest season. Damage from the storms was sporadic, and estimates of what toll the storms took on soybean fields still have to be tabulated, Stark said.

Arkansas’ farmers dedicated about 420,000 more acres to soybeans in 2017 than the previous year. Lower corn and other row crop prices forced farmers to pick soybeans even though prices haven’t been particularly high, Stark said. At the end of September soybean prices hovered from $9.12 to $9.46 per bushel. A lot of farmers already have contract prices in place, while others could see a slight bump in prices towards the end of the year if economic forecasts hold, he said.

“It’s always good to get our beans in the bin,” he said.

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