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After tough 2020, 2021 contract prices promise brighter for Arkansas corn

• By Ryan McGeeney •

dow brantley corn harvest

A team of combines harvest corn in Lonoke County, Arkansas — photo by Fred Miller, University of Arkansas

As with many of the state’s commodities, Arkansas corn, wheat and other feed grains took 2020 on the chin.

Arkansas corn saw a significant drop off in acreage, falling from growers’ stated planting intentions of 800,000 acres to 620,000 acres planted.

Jason Kelley, Extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the gap wasn’t surprising, given the wet planting conditions that dominated the late winter and spring, and a generally unattractive (and falling) market price. Grain sorghum acres had been anticipated to be low — approximately 10,000 acres — due to low price prospects as well.

Weather negatively impacted both crops throughout the planting season, he said, as well as the harvest.

“Weather was likely the biggest issue for getting corn and grain sorghum acres planted,” Kelley said.

“Tropical storms Laura and Beta caused issues in corn,” he said.

“We had a later harvest due to later planting,” and both Laura and Beta exacerbated the delay, he said. “They also brought wind that caused lodging problems in certain corn hybrids, especially in south Arkansas. Anytime we have lodging, our harvest efficiency goes down as we are not able to get all the grain into the combine.

“The amount of corn left in the field due to lodging most likely is the difference between a profitable field and one that is not,” Kelley said.

While 2020 did feature a late-season price bump for corn, the uptick occurred too late to help many Arkansas growers, who had already harvested and sold their crop by that point.

“Those who stored their grain at harvest, however, saw a nice increase in price from those available at harvest,” he said.

A potentially bright 2021

Kelly said the coming year augurs brighter prospects for Arkansas grain farmers than what befell them in 2020.

“The uptick in corn and grain sorghum prices over the last couple months has been welcome,” Kelley said. The current corn contract price, approximately $4.20 per bushel at harvest for next summer, is higher than last year’s market offerings, and will probably increase Arkansas corn acreage above the 620,000 acres that was grown in 2020, he said.

Grain sorghum prices have also increased greatly, in part due to renewed purchase activity from China.

“Farmers are currently able to lock in $4.75 per bushel in the Memphis area market, which is a very good price for grain sorghum,” Kelley said. At those prices he said, the state may see a significant increase in acreage from 2020, especially in non-irrigated acres.

“Wheat prices have also been increasing, and $6 per bushel wheat was able to be booked for harvest in 2021,” he said. “Those prices are attractive and did increase wheat seeding this fall, but acreage will still be below long-term averages.”

Ryan McGeeney is a communications specialist with the University of Arkansas. He may be reached at rmcgeeney@uaex.edu