If there ever was a year where southeast Kansas farmers were dependent on and disappointed by the munificence of a merciless Mother Nature, it was 2019. There are few facets of farming producers can agree upon, but the challenges and opportunities of 2019 are recognizable by even the most obstinate.
As dedicated fieldworkers focus on wrapping up soybean harvest, farmers and agronomists have a chance to relax and reflect on a season most would not care to repeat in the near future.
“We were faced with a lot of challenges during the growing season this year, mostly with logistics,” said Shannon McClintock, MFA Crop-Trak regional sales manager. “From the get-go we had problems getting fertilizer on last fall, and then the rains started and the problems just carried on over into the 2019 growing season.”
Excess moisture was the central struggle for soybean producers this year and has continued to delay progress even into the later stages of harvest.
“We get one or two days where we can run but then it rains again and we are stuck for a few days,” McClintock said on Friday. “With the 10-day forecast looking decent, in the next 10 days or so there will be a lot of beans come out of the fields.”
As it is, producers are significantly behind normal harvest periods and anxiously awaiting appropriate moisture levels and clear weather to finish up the season.
“I would say harvest is about 40 to 50 percent done right now with some of the double-cropped beans still out in the fields,” McClintock said. “It’s been an extended harvest this year due in part to late planting from the rains early in the season as well as high moisture during harvest.”
Wet days impacted progress during the growing season as well, with wet days providing both obstacles and opportunities.
“We had rain all season long and quite a few more cloudy days which delayed the development of the beans,” McClintock said. “They’re photoperiod sensitive and need sunlight to trigger their growth stages.”
The opportunities came in terms of optimal moisture for growing quality soybeans, especially in areas with well-drained soils.
“During the growing portion of the season, we actually did pretty well because soybeans like warm, wet weather,” said James Coover, Wildcat Extension District crop production specialist. “It was the planting part of the season that was the most difficult, and if we had been able to get the beans in on time — with the longer varieties that we typically plant in southeast Kansas — we would have even better yields than we have now.”
Double-Cropping Dramas and Wheat Acres
Typically, southeast Kansas is one of the few fortunate areas of the state that can double-crop wheat and soybeans with both high production and profitability. In 2019, complications with planting and a hard, early frost challenged producers with double-cropped fields.
“Our full-season beans, I think, will be trending similarly to what we have over the last several years with decent yields,” McClintock said. “Our double-cropped beans obviously were faced with even more challenges with an early freeze this year.”
While initially the freeze appeared to have decidedly damaging effects, most full-season and double-cropped beans were out of the danger zone for significant yield loss.
“The early frost that we had actually might have hurt us a little bit,” Coover said. “I don’t think the effects will be nearly as bad as we first thought, but it did frost off some of the longer varieties that got planted later.”
McClintock said beans around the R4 growth stage saw the most significant impact, but it didn’t appear that a huge percentage of fields were in that stage.
Now that fields have dried enough for harvest, they have also dried enough for producers to continue planting wheat — most of which will be double cropped with soybeans in the 2020 growing season.
“Wheat acres, what I’ve seen thus far, have been down compared to last year,” McClintock said. “There has been some corn that came out early where people have been able to get wheat in while it was dry.”
North of Highway 126, planted wheat acres start to decrease quite a bit, McClintock said. Most producers in Cherokee County and on across the state line into Missouri have already planted most of the wheat that will be planted for 2020.
Farther into southeast Kansas, producers will continue to plant wheat following soybean harvest.
“We’re just now able to get into the fields again and there is a lot of wheat going in, but of course we are several weeks late at this point,” Coover said. “There were some people who were able to get their wheat in on time but I would say there is also a lot of the wheat that was intended to be planted early and isn’t.”
As soil temperatures drop and fields dry, producers can begin thinking about anhydrous application strategies for next year. “Soil temperatures are just now getting to safe levels to apply anhydrous,” McClintock said. “The same issues that have delayed soybean harvest have also kept much anhydrous from being applied.”
McClintock cautioned producers to consider soil conditions in 2019 and potential problems in 2020 before deciding on a nitrogen strategy.
“We experienced a really wet year this year where we put all of our anhydrous on up front and we had to come back in during the season to sidedress and make up for some of that nitrogen loss,” McClintock said. “If we’re being good stewards, it may not be a bad idea to put a base layer of nitrogen on up front and maybe looking at putting from half to a majority of our nitrogen on in season.”
Overall, wrapping up a successful soybean season this close to the Thanksgiving holiday gives producers a chance to celebrate and reflect on a job well done in 2019 — despite some of the toughest conditions in recent years.
“It seems like the producers who were able to navigate the challenges and do things as timely as they possibly could are really seeing a lot of benefit this year,” McClintock said. “From herbicide to fertilizer applications, just about any input that we wanted to do was scheduled around what Mother Nature gave us.”