Soybean harvest sees record pace, high yield

By Ryan McGeeney, U of A System Division of Agriculture

Arkansas soybean growers are on track to have one of the best  — and fastest — harvests in recent memory.

With 91 percent of the state’s nearly 3 million soybean acres harvested as of Oct. 29, the work will likely be all but complete by this weekend. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the soybean harvest has typically only been about three-quarters complete by this point in the fall.

Jeremy Ross, extension soybean agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said that generally dry conditions in the early fall were the main factor in speeding the harvest — for better or worse.

“If you look at the drought monitor, it’s getting pretty severe,” Ross said. “It won’t affect soybeans that much, but some farmers will delay planting their cover crops for the winter due to how dry it is. Some growers had intended to plant wheat, but it’s been too dry.”

Much of Arkansas experienced a welcome downpour last weekend, with 2.44 inches of rainfall recorded in Little Rock on Oct. 28, and another 1.2 inches recorded Oct. 29. While that won’t likely bring the harvest to a halt, it may help to recharge low reservoirs.

“A lot of reservoirs are dry,” Ross said. “We need rainfall this winter to recharge them. We’ve done a lot of irrigation this year, especially in August-September.”

Ross said early-planted beans may have suffered under unusually cold temperatures in late April, but that the majority of soybeans planted within the “main window” in May appear to be rendering high yields.

“I’m hearing farmers saying they’ve got the best soybean crop they could remember,” Ross said. “Right now, USDA has us at a 53 bushel state average, which would be a new state record.”

External factors
While the crop may be out of the ground, it still has a way to go to reach its destination. And the ongoing situation of the Mississippi River, with levels so low that barge traffic has slowed to a crawl, is its chief obstacle.

“We’ve been feeling that effect for the last couple of weeks,” Ross said. “We’re just not able to get the grain shipped down to the gulf as rapidly as we have in the past. We ran into this same issue last year, and the river’s levels are lower now than they were last year.”

With little barge traffic moving grain downriver, elevators at buying points are sitting full, Ross said.

“This last 10 percent of the crop is probably going to set out in the field a little longer than some farmers really want it to, just because there’s really no place for it to go,” he said.

And while little is moving downstream on the Mississippi, even less is moving upriver.

“Downstream traffic on the Mississippi is able to go day and night, but upstream traffic is limited to daylight hours only,” Ross said. “They’re also not able to fill the barges as they typically would, because the barges need to ride higher on the water so they’re not going aground.”

The chief impact of this on growers is a lack of access to fertilizer, Ross said. If the situation continues for an extended period, growers may shift increasing acreage toward soybeans, which require less fertilizer than corn, for example.