A number of growers in the Upper Southeast made the decision last fall to increase wheat acres, planning to double-crop wheat with soybeans.
Wheat at the time was selling in the $7-$8 per bushel range and soybeans were $13-$14 per bushel.
What was a good plan back in October is turning out to be major challenge for many growers, as record May and June rainfall in some parts of the Upper Southeast extended into July.
North Carolina seems to be the hardest hit by the unusual weather pattern, but wheat harvest and soybean planting has been delayed throughout the Southeast.
Historically, wheat planted for a double-crop with soybeans is harvested in mid- to late-May. In most years, like 2012, virtually all the wheat in the Carolinas and Virginia is harvested by mid-June. Hence, all the double-crop beans are typically planted by that time, or shortly later.
This year in North Carolina, Dan Weathington, executive director of the North Carolina Small Grain Growers Association, says as late as July 1 more than 300,000 acres of wheat was left to be harvested and by mid-July as much as 150,000 acres remained to be combined.
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Needless to say, the negative impact on wheat production has been dramatic. However, the impact on the following soybean crop may prove to be worse, with many growers throughout the Upper Southeast struggling to find enough dry ground to plant double-crop soybeans.
In North Carolina, which annually produces about 1.5 million acres of soybeans, North Carolina State Soybean Specialist Jim Dunphy says, “It gets iffy whether even double-crop soybeans will be profitable after July 10 or so.
Depends on weather
“They can be, but they’ll be very dependent on the weather. Soybeans are sensitive to day-length, so they have a built-in calendar and they know they’re late, so they’ll speed things up a bit to compensate.”
“If I were planting soybeans much into July, I’d raise my target population a little, to 2.5 plants per foot of row in a 7-inch drill, or 12 plants per foot of row in 36-inch rows, Dunphy says.
“I’d go to the later maturing end of the range of maturities that I’m normally comfortable with for that area of the state. For most of North Carolina, that means to shy away from the maturity Group V varieties, and concentrate on the Group VI and VII varieties.
“Then, I’d cross my fingers and hope for good weather and good prices,” he says.
Even with the good weather from July until late-planted beans are harvested this fall, the chances for getting good yields are minimal in most cases.
Clemson University Researcher Pawel Wiatrak has conducted work the past several years on various planting dates in South Carolina. In general, he says later-planted beans are not going to perform as well as those planted in May.
He says, based on his research over the past several years, growers should expect about a half bushel per acre yield reduction on beans planted between May 20 and June 3.
On beans planted between June 3 and June 16, they should expect about a 0.3 bushel per acre loss.
The biggest losses in yield (0.6 bushels per acre), compared to May-planted beans comes on beans planted between June 16 and July 2. Beans planted after July 2 — would logically be even more yield-challenged, but the South Carolina researcher’s tests didn’t extend beyond that date.
This year, in North Carolina alone, there were an estimated 300,000 acres of wheat left to be harvested by July 1.
Even if growers could get into those fields and get the wheat out and get their double-crop beans planted, they would face many uphill challenges to harvest a decent crop.
According to USDA crop reporting services as late as June 23, only 68 percent of North Carolina’s projected 1.61 million acres of soybeans had been planted.
Heavy rainfall throughout the state and most of the Upper Southeast kept growers out of their fields for much of the first half of July. All indications are there will either be plenty of soybeans planted much later than the optimum time of the year, or there will be significantly fewer acres of beans planted this year in the state.
Is hope for reasonable crop
For growers who planted beans much later than normal, there is hope for a reasonable crop.
The big question will be weather, especially extreme heat during the time soybeans bloom. Most varieties will shed blooms when daytime temperatures reach 90 degrees F and such conditions are common in August, when much of the late planted crop will be flowering.
For the past few years, across the Upper Southeast the expected yield drag from double-crop beans behind wheat has proven to be a yield boost. The atypical La Niña weather pattern produced cooler and wetter than normal August and September weather, which was conducive to increased soybean yields.
The delay in planting beans will give Asian Soybean Rust a chance to impact yields in the region.
The dreaded disease was detected in central Alabama in early July, and the neutral weather pattern in place is indicative of strong tropical storm activity, which could push disease causing spores northward in time to impact young soybeans.
There is one important difference between double-crop soybeans and beans that are planted late, but that don’t follow wheat harvest.
Wheat removes a substantial amount of water from the soil as it matures, and in years with average June rainfall, the soybean crop that follows wheat has much less soil water available to it than does the crop that follows only the crop from the previous year.
In most years in the Southeast this moisture stress creates a yield drag for double-crop soybeans, but with beans planted so late this year, the impact between late-planted and late-planted double-crop beans may not be significant.
However, if the tropical storm season doesn’t materialize, the region could be looking at extended heat and dry weather at the critical time for soybean development.
For certain, there is a big risk involved in planting soybeans in the Upper Southeast in July. However, how these late planted beans will end up is mostly unpredictable.
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