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April 13, 2011

Trip report - Illinois and the U.S. Delta

Last week we made a trip through Illinois on our way down to the Delta region of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri.

Wet Conditions Delaying Fieldwork in the Northern Delta

In the northern Delta (Memphis and points north) there was some limited field work getting done over the weekend depending on location, but many areas were still too wet for the farmers to get in the fields. A lot of the fields in the Bootheel of Missouri still had some standing water as of last Saturday. More rain moved through the area on Sunday night and Monday keeping the soils too wet for field work. In the central Delta, occasionally you would see a tractor in the field either working ground or planting corn and a few were even kicking up a little dust, but some farmers were working ground that was probably too wet or they were working around wet spots in the field.

The soils are dryer as you move south into central Arkansas and northern Louisiana where more tractors were in the field either working ground, planting corn or preparing for rice planting.

Farmers in the northern Delta are behind schedule with their spring fieldwork, whereas in the central Delta fieldwork is probably about average and in the southern Delta it is slightly ahead of average.

Corn Most Advanced in Southern Delta, Corn Acreage Increased

It was obvious that the farmers in the Delta region are going to plant a lot more corn than in past growing seasons. In the 2011 Prospective Planting Report released by the USDA, they estimated that the corn acreage in Arkansas was going to increase 23% (from 390,000 acres in 2010 to 480,000), Mississippi was going to increase 15% (750,000 acres in 2010 to 860,000), and Louisiana was going to increase 2% (510,000 acres in 2010 to 520,000). Driving across the central and southern Delta where most of the corn has already been planted, it was quite obvious that a lot more corn had been planted than what would normally be expected in the region.

The fasting planting pace for corn is south of Memphis. In central Arkansas, it appeared that approximately half of the corn had been planted, but in Louisiana the corn planting appeared to have been nearly completed. Of the corn that had already germinated, most of the corn was 2- 3 inches tall with an occasional field in northern Louisiana that was 5-6 inches tall. The plant populations looked good in the fields that had already germinated.

In the central Delta some farmers were actively planting their corn, but none of the corn had yet germinated. In the northern Delta, it appeared that little corn had been planted and the farmers were waiting for the fields to dry out more before they could start fieldwork.

The corn planting is probably a little ahead of normal in the southern Delta and behind normal in the northern Delta. If the weather cooperates this summer, the farmers should be actively harvesting their larger corn crop in the southern Delta during the month of August.

Huge Increase in Wheat Acreage in Delta, Crop Looks Very Good

The amount of soft red winter wheat planted in the Delta this growing season is eye-popping. The USDA estimates that the winter wheat acreage in Arkansas will increase 275% (from 200,000 acres in 2010 to 550,000), Louisiana will increase 160% (from 125,000 acres in 2010 to 200,000), Mississippi will increase 264% (from 125,000 acres in 2010 to 330,000) and Missouri will increase 224% (from 370,000 acres in 2010 to 830,000). It was obvious that every one of those wheat acres had been planted and maybe even more.

The general condition of the wheat in the Delta looked very good. The crop was tall, lush, dark green, and growing rapidly. The most advanced wheat was in Louisiana where the crop was starting to head out. In the northern Delta, the crop was still in vegetative development.

If the spring/early summer weather cooperates, the soft red winter wheat crop in the mid-South and the Delta is going to be very good. There had been speculation that some of the soft red winter wheat might be plowed up and converted to other crops, but in my estimation, none of the wheat in the mid-South or the Delta will be converted to anything else, it will all be allowed to go to maturity.