No year is “normal” in farming — and especially not 2020. Farmers in the Four States spent half of the year praying for the rain to stop and the other half praying for it to start up again.
Kansas State University Extension crop specialist for Wildcat and Southwind Districts, James Coover, along with Missouri University Extension crop specialist Jill Scheidt, joined forces to give an area-wide update on crop progress and preparation in light of this year’s challenging growing season.
Corn harvest progressed in stages on the Kansas side of the state line, with staggered plantings causing a harvest filled with starts, stops and a few rain delays.
“There was some late planted corn and some very long season corn planted this year, but among my districts I would say probably 80% or more of the corn has been harvested,” Coover said. “By the end of the week, we should be close to completely done.”
Overall, once corn producers had the crop in the ground and growing, the conditions during the 2020 season resulted in better results than expected, especially given the challenging start to the season.
“Most of the farmers I’ve been able to speak with are reporting higher-than-expected yields,” Coover said. “Most of them were expecting yields to be around 80 bushels per acre and then ended up with yields between 105 and 140 per acre.”
Coover reported that almost all of the producers he spoke with in his districts reported yields over 100 bushels per acre, with some exceptions in areas that missed critical rain showers. One late-season rain happened at a critical juncture for short season corn while long season corn went through a dry period that may have caused it to take a hit.
Overall, farmers reported a quality corn crop with few blemishes at market.
“Test weights were decent this year and kernels were a good size for the most part,” Coover said. “There hasn’t been word of a lot of mold or fungus issues in corn — we had the possibility of some but there hasn’t been a whole lot of dockage at the port for those reasons that I’ve heard about.”
Missouri corn has faced similar growing season challenges, but the results are yet to be determined as harvest faces a few setbacks.
“There is a lot of corn left to be harvested on the Missouri side,” Scheidt said. “The moisture is still too high in much of the corn, so as the weather continues to dry out, we should see more harvested.”
On the Missouri side, corn harvest has taken a back seat for soybean producers eager to get ready-to-go early beans out of the field. “First crop soybeans have been finishing up,” Scheidt said. “Many producers have taken a break from or stalled corn harvest in order to harvest soybeans before shattering in the field becomes an issue.”
While Kansas producers have harvested some of their own early-planted soybeans, more is yet to come as late-season beans race to peak maturity.
“We have another two or three weeks before late planted variety groups are ready to be harvested,” Coover said. “There’s always the risk of having an early freeze but looking at the long range forecasts I think we’re going to avoid that altogether in the next two weeks.”
Coover said by the time cooler weather threatens, the soybeans will be pretty frostproof and most of the danger will have passed. Overall, producers are expected slightly lower than average yields from their soybean crops, depending on scattered rains.
“Because it rained in some places more than others, there will be different expectations for the soybean crop this year based on location,” Coover said. “A lot of producers have yield expectations in the 30 bushel per acre range — which isn’t bad compared to annual averages, but is less than they hoped for.”
Disease threats were low on soybean fields in the 2020 growing season, similar to the situation with corn fields, and the most common disease issues were a little unexpected.
“As far as overall field health goes, I was expecting some charcoal rot this year which we did not see a lot of,” Coover said. “I did see some fusarium, which was a little surprising because it’s typically a wet weather disease.”
Insects were perhaps more common than disease in soybean plots, but yield harm was low, Coover said.
“There did seem to be a pretty bad outbreak of clover worms in some areas,” Coover said. “Clover worms aren’t really the most concerning insect in the field because they feed on the foliage rather than the pods and even if you don’t treat them there’s a fungus in the field that eventually kills them.”
While wheat acres were down in 2020, wheat acres for 2021 could have potential improvement, at least locally if not nationally.
“There’s a good chance we will see more wheat planted locally this year than last year because it has been dry enough to plant,” Coover said. “Wet conditions last year kept a lot of people from planting wheat at all.”
Some eager wheat aficionados have wheat crops already up and thriving, having planted soon after harvesting corn.
“Some farmers just can’t stand to see an empty field, so there is some wheat in the area that’s already up and green,” Coover said. “There are other fields where the wheat is already in and ready, but waiting for a rain to kick start growth.”
If wheat hasn’t been planted yet, Coover said producers have three options for planting wheat in current dry field conditions.
“The first option is to dust it in — so putting it in the ground dry and hopefully it gets a rain on it and can get germinated,” Coover said. “The issue with dusting it in is that if the wheat germinates a little bit and then it never rains, it could kill that germination.”
In a dusting it in scenario field conditions have to be very dry in order for the technique to successfully work, Coover said. The other two available options may have better results depending on location and rainfall.
“The other option is to plant it deep,” Coover said. “There are some areas south of us that got a little bit of rain a few weeks ago where there might be enough moisture in the profile to get it going.”
In scenarios where wheat has the potential to sit in the soil longer, seed treatments might be a good investment to combat fungal and disease issues, Coover said. However, in the third and final option, producers hold the seeds out of the ground until conditions are optimal.
“The third option is just to wait and see if it rains,” Coover said. “The optimal plant dates for wheat in this area are October 5 through October 20, so there are a few weeks still to make decisions.”
On the Missouri side of the state line little wheat has gone in the ground thus far and although planting conditions could improve, many producers may choose not to plant wheat at all.
“The Hessian Fly free date here is October 10, so few people have already planted at this point,” Scheidt said. “Many will choose not to plant until we get a good rain, but we might not have a lot of wheat planted at all this year if market prices continue.”