Farmers ahead of schedule: Dry fields speed along harvest

By CARLIE KOLLATH / NEMS Daily Journal


ABERDEEN – Farmer Chip Henley had a little spring in his step last week as he prepared his combine to harvest a field of soybeans.
It’s an entirely different story from a year ago, when excessive rains delayed the harvest, leaving many farmers to work in the mud and some to abandon their crops in the field.
“We love it just like this – when we can ride all over the fields,” said Henley, gesturing to a field in the Muldon/Strong community south of Aberdeen.
The recent dry, hot weather put some stress on the plants, but when it comes to the harvest, many Northeast Mississippi growers say it has put them ahead of schedule.
“Last year at this time we had zero (acres) harvested,” said Tommy Harrison of BHF and Co. in south Pontotoc County. “This time, we have over 3,000 acres harvested. If things go well, we should finish harvesting a week later than we started last year.”
Normally, harvest time goes until about Thanksgiving, Harrison said. But this year, the process is about 30 days ahead of schedule on Harrison’s farm, where he has cotton, corn, soybeans and sweet potatoes.
Douglas Kitchens, a farmer in the northwest Itawamba community of Kirkville, said his cotton, which was planted May 13, is ahead of schedule too.
“You normally pick it in October, but it’s ready now,” he said Wednesday.
It’ll take him about three weeks to pick his 900 cotton acres and then he plans to move on to his later-maturing soybean fields.
The majority of Northeast Mississippi farmers are harvesting their soybean fields now.
According to the USDA’s crop progress and condition report for the week ending Sept. 26, the state’s soybean crop is 65 percent harvested, up from 30 percent last year. The five-year average for this time is 59 percent.
Many Northeast Mississippi farmers report their soybean crops have been “average” this year, noting that the yield and quality depends on how much rain an individual field received.
In Keith Morton’s case, the Falkner farmer said his soybean fields have been through a lot this year, but he’s pleased with the harvest he’s seen so far.
“We’ve had a remarkably challenging year,” he said. “Parts of the farm were under water in May. Now, we’re harvesting one of the highest-quality, high-yielding crops we’ve had in a few years.”
Morton, who farms about 1,000 acres with his wife, Beth, said he was blessed last year that only about 150 acres of his farm were seriously damaged by the heavy rains. Morton is one of hundreds of U.S. farmers who are expected to apply for recently released federal aid to help recover some of the money lost from rain-damaged crops last year.
“But I’m not dependent on that program,” Morton said. “We came out profitable last year. We’re praising God for that.”
Henley also said he was one of the exceptions last year, harvesting a bumper crop.
“It was a good one last year,” he said. “The rain hit the beans just right. Harvesting in the mud wasn’t fun but we got them all out. We had a few acres of beans last year that the beans had started molding but we took our beating and got them anyway.”
Earlier, farmers were harvesting corn. According to the USDA report, the state’s corn acreage has been 100 percent harvested.
Farmers like Henley said the crop was “fair to good” this year. He said his yields were down across his 1,100 acres of corn and suspects the early rains washed away some of his fertilizer.
In south Pontotoc County, Harrison finished harvesting corn two weeks ago. For his 2,000 acres, he said the quality was great and the yield was average.

Cotton cutting in process
The state’s cotton harvest is about 51 percent finished. This time last year, the USDA said, no acres had been harvested.
This time last year, Kitchens said, his cotton crop was in pitiful shape due to the excessive rain.
“Last year, it ruined my cotton,” he said.
He started harvesting his 900 acres of cotton last week and said he hopes to average about 600 to 700 pounds.
“Cotton’s going to be better this time than last year,” he said.
Right now, he’d rate his cotton crop as a “high medium.”
The sweet potato crop this year is a drastic change from last year, when about 75 percent of the harvest was destroyed by excessive rains, according to estimates from the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
“We have extremely high-quality potatoes coming out of the ground,” said Benny Graves, the executive secretary of the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council. “They’ve been grown and harvested under ideal conditions. Yields are a bit above average in a lot of cases, and I haven’t seen this quality in a number of years.”
According to MSU, yields are averaging about 275-300 bushels per acre, up from the state’s average of 250-275 bushels an acre.
In mid-September, sweet potatoes were averaging $19.50 per 40-pound carton.
Sixty-five percent of the state’s sweet potato acreage had been harvested as of last week, the USDA said. Last year, only 25 percent had been harvested at this time. The five-year average is 40 percent.

Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.