The long, hot summer takes its toll

To say that 2022 has been a tough year for agriculture is perhaps the biggest understatement of the year. Even without supply chain disruptions and rising input costs, the weather in 2022 has been brutal for Midsouth crops.

A cool, wet spring pushed seeding back much later than expected for many growers in the north of our region. Then the rain stopped and the heat came at an unfortunate time for late planted crops.

The National Weather Service reported less than an inch of rain during the month of June for Memphis, Tenn., Tupelo, Miss., and Jonesboro, Ark. One of the driest Junes on record for every location. The July 21 US Drought Monitor map showed most of the Midsouth falling into the abnormally dry to severe drought range.

The lack of rainfall is compounded by the extreme heat.

“When heat and drought stressors add up, plants have no groundwater to draw from, so they close their stomata. [leaf pores], and it makes the leaves really hot,” said University of Missouri plant scientist Ron Mittler. “That’s why the combination of drought and heat is really dangerous, because the temperature of the leaves is much higher than with a plant subjected to heat alone. The change can be between two and four degrees, and it can mean the difference between life and death.

Relentless Heat

In northern Mississippi, temperatures hit nine triple digits in June and July, including a streak of five straight days with highs of 100 or more. Maximum temperature records have been broken five times in the past two months in the Tupelo area.

Matt Miles

Screenshot of the weather app showing a heat index of 121 degrees on July 21, 2022

Parts of the Midsouth have spent several days under excessive heat warnings where heat index temperatures are reaching 110-115 degrees. A grower in eastern Arkansas shared a screenshot of a weather app reporting heat index values ​​of 121 degrees on July 21, 2022.

And in the Memphis area, averaging June and July temperatures together, it was the hottest consecutive June and July in 100 years. The average temperature in the region for the two months combined was 85.15. This exceeds the average temperatures of June and July 2011 (84.85) and even those of June and July 1980 (84.8), which is often the norm for producers in the region when it comes to measuring the hot summers.

The average high temperature for June and July in Memphis was 95.25, nearly five degrees above normal.

“The heat is what gets us,” said Casey Youngerman, a row crop farmer in West Tennessee, “especially the nighttime temperatures. These plants do not have time to recover.

state of culture

Youngerman said rainfall has been hit and miss on his farm.

“I’ve got ground that’s not going to be too good, I’ve got ground that’s going well,” he said, “but nothing will be spectacular this year.”

Youngerman’s comments seem to echo those of many Midsouth growers who are simply hoping for an average harvest this season. The USDA’s July 24 crop progress and status report showed the highest percentage of Tennessee corn, cotton and soybeans in “fair” condition.

In a mid-July blog post, Tyson Raper, a cotton scientist at the University of Tennessee, wrote that Tennessee growers may be managing fewer fruiting positions than they’ve seen in the past. of the last 10 years.

“Cotton can offset and surprise, but we need rain,” he wrote. “I would start critically reviewing all entries in the future and remove those that aren’t absolutely necessary.”

In Mississippi, the state of the soybean harvest in early August literally depends on where you are, according to extension specialists.

Ginger RowseyHeat-Drought-Stress-Soybeans.jpeg

Soybeans struggling with extreme heat and drought conditions.

“We have some very nice irrigated soybeans that were planted in the optimal planting window and have come to this point in the season with very few issues, other than extreme heat,” said Trent Irby, soybean specialist at Mississippi State University. Extension service. “We even have rainfed soybeans that could fall into the same description after catching multiple timely rains.

“Change locations,” he added, “and we have irrigated soybeans which are way behind because they couldn’t be planted early due to wet conditions and non-irrigated soybeans which didn’t no rain for weeks”.

In Arkansas, the Midsouth state with the most irrigated acres, the latest crop progress and condition report is more encouraging, although hay crops and pastures continue to suffer.

Matt Miles, who farms in McGehee, Ark., is almost entirely irrigated. However, even with irrigation, extreme heat and overnight lows that remain in the upper 70s are hurting yield potential.

“In my experience, those higher night temperatures can easily rob you of 5-15% of your corn yield,” he said.

Still, he expects to harvest a “decent” maize crop and a good soybean crop.

“With our full-season corn and soybeans, we planted early enough to escape some of that extreme heat that came at a critical time for most crops. Sowing early was definitely an advantage, although many farmers did not have that opportunity this year.

Miles said a challenge this summer was to schedule workers for a series of weeks when heat index values ​​regularly exceeded 110 degrees.

“I don’t want to work in that kind of heat, and I don’t want to ask my employees either,” he said. “We have tried to rearrange the schedules so that they work at cooler times of the day.”

Miles began harvesting corn the first week of August. Although the dismantling of the harvesting equipment does not seem to change the weather conditions. While the last U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook drought conditions are improving in the delta and in the hills of Mississippi and Tennessee, forecasts predict that drought will persist through October in most of Arkansas and northern Louisiana. Above normal temperatures also appear to persist into the fall.

The long, hot summer isn’t over yet.

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