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Arkansas corn, sorghum finishing strong despite terrible start

10/2/2013 at 12:00 a.m.

From the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture:

Overcoming wet spring weather that caused a weak start, Arkansas corn and sorghum growers are all enjoying high yields this year, with the corn crops coming in nearly as strong as the bumper crop of 2012.

The corn yield is expected to come in at 175 bushels per acre, just three bushels under the record set last year, and the sorghum crop is expected to come in at a strong 85 bushels an acre.

Corn crop

The success of the corn crop is particularly good news because Arkansas corn growers, buoyed by last year’s success, planted more than 1 million acres this year, compared to 695,000 acres of corn harvested in 2012.

Six months ago, that enthusiasm was looking like a giant miscalculation, after an unusually cool, wet spring delayed planting in many areas and retarded crop growth.

“The weather was horrible at the beginning,” said John Gates, a grower in Chicot County. “The crop did recover more than I ever anticipated that it would.”

The rainy weather forced growers to fertilize twice this season, and early crops were also damaged by birds, raccoons and squirrels, he said. But the unusually temperate weather during the summer growing season helped turn things around, and Gates said yields in his area are ranging from 160 bushels up to 200 bushels per acre.

“I think part of it was divine intervention,” he said.

Because of the rainy spring, planting stretched into May in many areas of central and Northeast Arkansas, “a good month later than optimum,” said Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“We got off to a terrible start,” Kelley said. “Corn that was planted in late February and early March in South Arkansas took a month or more to emerge and then emergence wasn’t uniform. There were lots of concerns about whether we would have enough plants to make a good crop.

“In early May, most producers were expecting to harvest an average crop at best based on the poor planting season,” he said. “Once we got past the first part of May, we had nearly ideal conditions. We never experienced the 100-degree temps and 80 degree nights that we often see in Arkansas.”

The cooler conditions during silking and grain fill helped maximize yields.

The record of 2012 was due to being “able to plant early due to a very warm and dry early spring,” Kelley said. “This got the crop that year off to a great start and then we had relatively cool temperatures during grain fill.”

“Considering we planted an estimated 1 million acres of corn this year and the weather difficulties we had in March and April, 175 bushels per acre state average is pretty amazing,” Kelley said.

Arkansas producers are expected to harvest an estimated 970,000 acres this year, some 275,000 more acres than they harvested in 2012.

Super sorghum

Arkansas grain sorghum growers are expected to harvest about 165,000 acres this year, compared to 135,000 in 2012. Kelley said the expected yield of 85 bushels per acre is excellent “considering only about half of our acreage is irrigated compared to 90 percent for corn.”

“Rainfall and cooler than average temperatures at the right times are allowing producers to make excellent yields,” he said.

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