Cotton Boll

After delays from a little wind and a lot of rain, the harvest is starting to click along in Southeast Arkansas.

Cotton bolls are open, rice is coming out of the fields and peanuts are waiting for digging.

Ashley County had 6,200 acres of rice planted, and Extension Agent Kevin Norton said that it had – for the most part – “done really well.”

“The fields I was involved with were cutting over 200 bushels,” he said. 

Part of that was attributable to a largely temperate summer.

“A lot of times, the night time temperatures really seem to have an effect on rice, and my memory serves we weren’t having really high night temperatures like we have in the past,” Norton said.

In Chicot County, Clay Gibson — the staff chair for the U of A Division of Agriculture Chicot Extension Office — said he was also seeing good yields for traditional and row rice

“It has been a good year for rice. It didn’t get crazy, crazy hot, and the irrigation was pretty good,” he said. “We had that one dry period for 28 days, but it has been a pretty good year overall.”

Rice farming in the region has started a shift toward greater row rice acreage rather than using the traditional levee systems. Norton said approximately half of Ashley County’s crop this year was planted in row arrangements. In Chicot County, the percentage increase in row rice acreage has also been higher than it has in the past.

“It allows you to put some ground (into production) that you couldn’t if you had so many levees in it,” Norton said said. “You can just take those levees out. You can water it, but they don’t have to try to maintain that flood. A lot of them would say it is easier; they can turn on the pipe and water it down the rows.” 

Harvesting row rice is also easier, Gibson said.

“When you cut row rice, it is like cutting a wheat field,” he said.

Part of what made the expansion into row rice growing was hardy hybrid rices, Gibson said. 

“If you water them every three days, that is enough to do it,” Gibson said. “You don’t have to hold a five-inch flood.”

“Not every field can be converted to row production, Gibson said, and this year’s milder weather likely helped with the success of some fields that will be tougher to water during a drought year. But the trend in rice production in the area looks clear.

“(Row rice) is growing each year and it is going to keep growing, I think.”

Ashley County’s soybean crop took a battering when Tropical Storm Laura blew through the area, and Norton said he isn’t sure about the average yield for the bean harvest.

“We did have a lot of beans kind of get blown over with the hurricane,” Norton said. “I talked to a few guys who feel like they’re leaving six bushels in the field just because they couldn’t get them.”

In Chicot County, Gibson was able to offer a glimpse at the delta’s bean production for the year.

“We are having great yields of 70 and 75-plus (bushels per acre),” he said.

In some Chicot fields, where the farmers are participating in an annual soybean yield challenge, the margins are higher. 

“Nobody has hit 10 bushels per acre yet, but I have seen a 95, a 98 and a 99,” Gibson said.

A lot of beans were late this year, he said, but overall the plants are producing quality seed that doesn’t get docked for damage when it reaches the elevator.

The biggest challenge has been early fall rain.

“What has hurt was this last weather event where we got seven inches of rain on some spots, and it put people way behind,” Gibson said.

“Harvest was flying. Everything was dry, people were going as fast as they could, but that weather event really slammed the brakes on everyone — not just a few people.”

But even that blast of wet weather helped out, said Patrick Hicks with the USDA Farm Service Agency Chicot County Service center.

“It helped some of the ones who planted their beans late they needed the last little shot of water where the crop was already through,” Hicks said “It didn’t really hurt other than stalling them from harvest.”

In some instances, a late rain could spell trouble, with the moisture combining with the heat to grow fungus that can damage the plants just in time for harvest.

“We had relatively cool weather after that event,” Gibson said. “We didn’t have that problem (with fungus) as opposed to if you have that rain event and it was hot.”

For another crop – corn – rain has been the story of the year. Heavy rain into March delayed planting. It eventually went in and grew, but it didn’t produce a spectacular harvest.

“For the most part, corn was just a little bit off,” Norton said of Ashley County. “It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t at our normal standards.”

The FSA tracks crops that would have been planted but were prevented by external, forces — in this case, the wet weather — and even though it was heavy in the early spring Hicks said corn was the only crop that was really affected by it.

“Your only crops that were prevented planting were corn,” he said “The other crops have a later planting period.”

Gibson said the corn yield for Chicot this year has been “average at best.”

“We had the late planting and not great conditions and then had a couple of weather events,” he said. “One weather event early put a bunch of corn on the ground and then hurricane put a bunch on the ground.”

Cotton also took a beating in the storm in Ashley County, though Norton said how much that translates to meaningful consequences for the harvest is a question.

“They were really just last week bearing down and getting started good (on the cotton harvest),” he said. “After the storm, once they got the defoliate out, the plants stood up and we’ll see.”

Last week was what Gibson considered peak boll opening for cotton in his area, and picking has moved into the harvest in full.

“There is a lot of defoliating going on, and some cotton has been picked,” Gibson said. “I would guess the cotton crop would be a little above average on yield, and they are moving along pretty quickly.”

Norton said Ashley County has approximately 900 acres of peanuts planted, though they are yet to be harvested. As the summer crops come up, a few farmers are planting a few thousand acres of winter crops, winter wheat and oats in the prairies around Hamburg.

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