Sustainability

Ground Work 2021: Mississippi River Levels, Rain Impact Illinois Soybeans

What a difference a week makes.

During the week of June 21, the Mississippi River dropped as low as 3 m, or 10 feet, and the crops were dry. I harvested winter wheat and planted double-crop soybeans.

Then it rained. We needed that rain. But it kept raining.
The Mississippi River rose 6.4 m, or 21 feet, in just 48 hours.

On Monday, June 28, I had to close my flood gate. The Mississippi River was higher than 9.3 meters, or 30.5 feet.

While the gate only needed to be closed for about one day, water is impacting our crops in this area.
Fields along the river, unprotected by the levee, flooded. I lost between 10 and 11 hectares, or between 25 and 27 acres, of soybeans in a field next the river. However, I know other farmers in my area have lost more crops than I have.

During the last five days of June, my fields received between 10 and 19 cm, or 4 and 7.5 inches, of rain. That water combined with water from the Illinois and Missouri River Basins, which flow into the Mississippi River just north of my farm near St. Louis, causing the rapid rise above flood stage.

I haven’t seen the Mississippi River change that dramatically that quickly before. The local levee district had to turn on two levee pumps to help drain fields in this area. Besides flooding along the river, low spots in other fieldshave rain or seepage water that can’t easily drain, keeping the soil water-logged. These conditions, along with high temperatures, have been hard on soybeans.

River levels are going back down. A week into July, the Mississippi River was just below 6 m, or 20 feet. It is going down much more slowly than it rose.

Prior to the rain and flooding, I was feeling really good. Winter wheat harvest went smoothly with excellent yields of more than 6.8 metric tons/hectare, or 100 bushels/acre.

As soon as wheat harvest was finished, I planted 48.5 hectares, or 120 acres, of double-crop soybeans directly into the wheat stubble in two days. Each day, I had to wait until late morning, when the wheat stubble was fully dry, to allow the planter to effectively cut through the wheat stubble to plant the soybeans with good seed contact.

As I finished planting the double-crop soybeans, the field received nearly 4 cm, or 1.5 inches, of rain. That was perfect.

But the additional rain and flooding have impacted my crop management. I am now replanting at least 10 hectares, or 25 acres, of the double-crop soybeans. And time will tell if I need to replant more.

The double-crop soybeans are emerging, but they are small. The full-season soybeans have been growing slowly, in part because of the water-logged soil conditions. The earliest-planted soybeans are just starting to have some blooms.

The corn is looking as good as I’ve seen it, except for the areas of sandy fields that were damaged too much by last month’s dry conditions to recover. Corn thrives in the heat and handles wet soils better than soybeans. The earliest-planted corn is tasseling and will soon be pollinating, determining yield potential.

During the half of July, while that corn is pollinating, the forecast calls for humid conditions and more rain. Diseases thrive in this type of environment, so during the first week of July, I decided to protect that corn with a fungicide application. A helicopter applied it.

It continues to be an unpredictable year. I am thankful the winter wheat produced such a good crop. And I am hopeful for the crops that have survived both the dry spell and the flooding. Based on how the season has gone so far, next week will probably bring something different.

 

 

Daryl Cates

Daryl Cates grows soybeans, corn, wheat and double crop soybeans on his farm near Columbia, Illinois. He started farming with his father in 1980 after graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in agronomy. He currently serves as the secretary of the American Soybean Association and is involved in WISHH. He and his wife Sandy have three adult children, Drew, Brett married to Stephanie, and Megan.