Arkansas grain farmers have a dismal 2020; higher prices in 2021 could portend crop growth

by George Jared ([email protected]) 611 views 

Arkansas corn farmers planted nearly 20% less corn than was projected at the start of the 2020 planting season, according to figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture. Growers intended to plant 800,000 acres but only 620,000 acres were planted.

Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the gap wasn’t surprising, given the wet planting conditions that dominated the late winter and spring, and a generally unattractive market price. Grain sorghum acres had been anticipated to be low — approximately 10,000 acres — due to low price prospects as well.

“Weather was likely the biggest issue for getting corn and grain sorghum acres planted,” Kelley said. “Tropical storms Laura and Beta caused issues in corn. We had a later harvest due to later planting,” and both Laura and Beta exacerbated the delay. They also brought wind that caused lodging problems in certain corn hybrids, especially in south Arkansas. Anytime we have lodging, our harvest efficiency goes down as we are not able to get all the grain into the combine.”

He later added, “The amount of corn left in the field due to lodging most likely is the difference between a profitable field and one that is not.”

While 2020 did feature a late-season price bump for corn, the uptick occurred too late to help many Arkansas growers, who had already harvested and sold their crop by that point. Farmers that stored their grain at harvest experienced a slight price bump.

Corn crops in Arkansas have an annual value of more than $300 million, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau, and the five year average of acres is 670,000.

The coming year augurs brighter prospects for Arkansas grain farmers than what befell them in 2020.

“The uptick in corn and grain sorghum prices over the last couple months has been welcome,” Kelley said. The current corn contract price, approximately $4.20/bu at harvest for next summer, is higher than last year’s market offerings, and will probably increase Arkansas corn acreage above the 620,000 acres that was grown in 2020, he said.

Grain sorghum prices have also increased greatly, in part due to renewed purchase activity from China.

“Farmers are currently able to lock in $4.75/bu in the Memphis area market, which is a very good price for grain sorghum,” Kelley said. At those prices he said, the state may see a significant increase in acreage from 2020, especially in non-irrigated acres.

“Wheat prices have also been increasing, and $6/bu wheat was able to be booked for harvest in 2021,” he said. “Those prices are attractive and did increase wheat seeding this fall, but acreage will still be below long-term averages.”