Arkansas farmers will plant an estimated 280,000 acres of corn this year, says Dr. Jason Kelley, Wheat and feed grains specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

He said it's 83,000 acres more than the 10-year average of 197,000 acres. The Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service said farmers planted 365,000 acres of corn in 2003, the most since 1959.

"If the price of soybeans wasn't $10 a bushel," Kelley said, "farmers this year would have likely planted more corn this spring, maybe even more than last year."

He said there's still a lot of corn going into the ground, spurred by the fact that the price of corn is favorable, and farmers have had dry weather for planting.

Many farmers are planting corn for its benefits in rotation with other crops. Corn, a non-host plant for soil-borne nematodes, can reduce nematode levels for soybeans that will be grown the following year.

Blessed with favorable weather, farmers are planting corn at a rapid clip.

As of April 5, farmers had planted 63 percent of the crop, compared to the five-year average of 30 percent, Kelley said. He figured planting could be completed by mid-April. Farmers will typically harvest in late August through the middle of September.

Corn farmers would like to see another repeat of the statewide record yield of 145 bushels-per-acre in 2001. Last year, producers saw near-record yields of 140 bushels. To produce top yields farmers will need plenty of rain and relatively cool temperatures in the summer.

Yields are also going up an average of 2 percent to 3 percent a year because of better varieties, Kelley noted. "Last year, farmers harvested more than 200 bushels per acre from several fields. Our yields are getting higher and higher each year."

Farmers are embracing new corn technology, the Extension specialist said.

"Many farmers are now planting Roundup Ready corn. It's been on the market a few years, and its popularity is increasing. It was developed for farmers to control weeds, but a secondary concern was to help reduce effects of Roundup, or glyphosate, drift.

"There's a lot of Roundup Ready soybeans around and a lot of Roundup herbicide being sprayed in adjacent fields that can injure corn. People are planting Roundup Ready corn to protect their corn from drift."

Kelley said that Arkansas farmers can plant up to 50 percent of their corn acreage in Bt hybrids that can control corn borers, one of the main insect pests. Borers may feed a day or two on Bt corn and then die.

"In Arkansas, we typically plant early and often avoid damage from corn borers. Bt corn is further protection."

Kelley said about 200 to 300 corn varieties are available to farmers every year, but only a small portion are adapted to Arkansas conditions. The University of Arkansas annually tests about 100 corn hybrids, of which several are experimental.

University researchers and Extension scientists perform corn research in production areas such as fertility, planting dates, weed control, irrigation management and seeding rates. This information is available to farmers every year through their county Extension agents and production meetings.

For more information on corn production, contact your county Extension agent. The Cooperative Extension Service is a part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.

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