Dry weather, shipping issues for Arkansas soybean growers

The lack of summer rainfall in the Southern and Midwest states could spell a reduction in Arkansas soybean yield this harvest season.

After the wet spring planting season, growers had to contend with unusually dry summers, some parts of the state had no rain for up to two months. This, coupled with rising energy prices, has raised input costs for growers of Arkansas’ most popular row crop, soybeans.

Hallie Shoffner is a sixth generation soybean grower and CEO of SFR Seed based in Newport. He says some growers are unable to afford the higher fuel costs to run the irrigation wells needed to water their crops during drought.

“I know of a few cases where farmers just ran out of money in the middle of the year and shut down the wells… breaking our energy budget and irrigation budget was probably the hardest thing in terms of the bottom line,” said Shoffner. “There will be many farmers making difficult decisions, including some of our neighbors who have already made difficult decisions about whether agriculture is feasible for them next year.”

Water levels along the Mississippi River have dropped due to the dry weather, disrupting shipping around the same time Arkansas farmers are harvesting their crops. Shoffner says barge movement along the river has come to a complete halt for a few days earlier this month, which has led to an excess of harvested soybeans.

“Say you’re a farmer with no warehouse and you have a soybean truck and only a few trucks, what will you do with it? If you have a truck that has soybeans in it, you can’t harvest another field, your soybeans in the field indefinitely, which is very bad for your soybeans and will reduce your yield, the number of pounds per acre you can get, ”said Shoffner.

Despite efforts by the US Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the river and restart barge traffic, Shoffner says the damage caused by the interruption of shipping has already been felt by farmers.

– I understand that the shoulders do not carry the full weight and there are fewer of them. So shipping has slowed down considerably, ”said Shoffner. “We saw prices drop as the river closed. Fortunately, these prices are rising again. But for farmers who got stuck trying to unload the beans in that window when prices were very low, it really hit their profits. “

Farmers, he says, also have to deal with higher costs of shipping fertilizer, which is usually transported up the Mississippi River at this time of the year.

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicts more extreme weather events in Arkansas as a result of climate change, Shoffner says the goal of her 2,200-acre farm is to improve soil quality, reduce the need for artificial irrigation, and prevent erosion from flooding.

“We need soil that can hold more moisture, especially since our soil tends to be more sandy than the rest of the state. And the way we chose to do this is that we are going not at all[-till] and the minimum until next year, ”said Shoffner. “Every acre on our farm is going to be cultivated this year and going to sleep and we hope we never do that again.”

While growing can make planting easier, Shoffner says it causes a loss of useful organic matter in the soil and the release of harmful carbon into the atmosphere. He says that planting ground cover crops such as grain, rye, and triticale can create year-round root networks, which can also help keep the soil moist.

After a sharp decline in 2019, Arkansas soybean acreage has grown largely from the roughly 3.25 million acres planted last March, according to the USDA. Even so, soybean acreage is projected to decline nationwide by more than half a million acres this year.

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