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Record corn, soybean yields forecast

By Glen Chase

This article was published November 10, 2012 at 3:56 a.m.

— Arkansas farmers are looking at record corn, soybean and rice harvests, even though the state was ravaged by drought for much of 2012, according to a report released Friday.

Helped by earlier-thanusual planting and irrigated fields, the state’s corn harvest is expected to reach a record 122 million bushels, with an average yield of 177 bushels per acre, also a record, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported.

The agency estimated growers were able to harvest 690,000 acres of corn — about one-third more than in 2011.

The corn crop’s success this year likely will encourage farmers to plant even more in 2012, said Jason Kelley, a corn agronomist with the University of Arkansas Agriculture Division Cooperative Extension Service.

“If you grow a crop and you just hit a home run, well that makes you want to do it again,” Kelley said.

Kelley said the combination of the early planting and wide use of irrigation made it a “special year” for the corn crop. The previous corn-yieldper-acre record — 169 bushels — was set in 2007.

The same factors — early planting and irrigation — contributed to what is expected to be a record soybean harvest in Arkansas, said Jeremy Ross, a soybean agronomist with the UA Cooperative Extension Service.

Ross said soybean fields were planted two to three weeks earlier than usual in 2012, meaning the plants were off to a good start when the drought settled in. With about 75 percent of the 3.3 million acres of soybeans in the state irrigated, most growers were able to keep their crops going.

The statistics service estimated that this year, farmers will harvest 129 million bushels, or 2 percent more than a year ago. The yield per acre is expected to average 41 bushels, the highest soybean yield on record.

Arkansas’ rice crop also is expected to set record yields, according to the statistics service report.

Farmers are expected to harvest 94 million hundredweight, a 20 percent increase over the 2011 harvest. The agency said that the average yield is estimated to hit 7,340 pounds per acre, up 570 pounds from last year, and the largest per-acre yield on record.

Chuck Wilson, director of the University of Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart, said rice, like other crops, benefited from early planting.

“The drought, per se, did not hurt us,” said Wilson, because nearly all of Arkansas’ rice acreage is irrigated.

Matt King, an economist with the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said the early planting enabled pollination to take place in relatively cool weather, before the drought and record heat set in. Then, the drought forced farmers to turn on water pumps to protect their crops.

“It was avery expensive to produce this crop,” said King. What is saving farmers are the relatively high crop prices, partially caused by droughtdriven crop losses in other parts of the country, he said.

For example, King said, going into the season, corn was estimated to sell for $4 to $5 per bushel. But the drought drove prices up to $7 to $8 per bushel, which covered the added production cost. In past drought years, he said, crop prices often wouldn’t rise enough to cover the added irrigation, which would hurt farmers’ bottom lines.

In 2012, Arkansas farmers harvested 3.1 million acres of soybeans, 1.25 million acres of rice, 690,000 acres of corn and 580,000 acres of cotton. The statistics service said that, compared with 2011, farmers planted about 18 percent more corn and 5 percent more rice in 2012, but reduced cotton acreage by 15 percent and soybean acreage 2 percent.

Given the 2012 harvest figures, Ross predicted that soybean acreage would “definitely” go up next year, especially if soybean prices hold in the $15-per-bushel range. He said he’s been hearing from growers that they expect to reduce rice acres, because it’s more intensive to grow than corn or soybeans and that cotton plantings will drop because of relatively low prices.

Wilson said the structure of the federal Farm Bill pending in Congress also will determine what crops farmers plant.

He said if the bill eliminates direct payments to farmers — as is being considered — then, over the long term, Arkansas farmers who rely on irrigation will move from rice and cotton to corn and soybeans, which are easier to grow. For the 2013 planting season, he expects rice acreage will shrink 10 percent to 12 percent.

Ross and Kelley agreed corn and soybean planting will increase next year.

“A lot of rice guys will be cutting back,” he said. “So will cotton.”

How much, though, will depend on attitudes next spring when growers decide what to plant, said Lance Schmidt, a Newport-based rice verification coordinator for the Agriculture Division.

“Every year is so volatile,” Schmidt said, and there are many “die-hard” rice farmers.

“We’re coming off the season and everybody is happy with the prices they got for the corn and for the soybean,” he said. If rice prices rally, “I think our rice acres will still go down, but not as drastic.”

Business, Pages 31 on 11/10/2012

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