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Agriculture is key to our state's economy, culture, and history. It is our leading industry with roughly $16 billion contributed to the Natural State economy each year. With rice, soybeans, cotton, corn, cattle, and wheat, we at Arkansas Public Media pledge to report on issues that impact not just this industry, but this leading way of life in our state.

Tiny Worms Bug Arkansas’s Soybean Farmers

Ann Kenda
Soybean fields in Newport, Ark., summer 2018

An unwelcome guest has moved into many of Arkansas’s soybean fields, prompting some concern about this year’s soybean yield.

“They’ve made Arkansas home,” said University of Arkansas extension plant pathologist Travis Faske of the tiny, destructive worms known as root knot nematodes.

The worms have been showing up this growing season in the sandy soils common on many Arkansas farms. Faske said part of the reason may be drought conditions, which have affected some counties this summer.

At a recent field day in Newport, he talked with farmers, crop consultants and others about soil testing and other measures that can be taken during the fall to detect and prevent a worm infestation.  Such measures can include a decision to plant a variety of bean that are resistant to certain pests.

Plant pathologist Travis Faske speaks with growers and crop consultants at a Soybean College event in Newport, Arkansas on Aug. 8, 2018

James Wilson, who farms in Walnut Ridge, said testing helped him avoid a worm outbreak.

“We do a lot of soil testing in the fall and haven’t noticed any issues so far this year,” he said.

Others are concerned that the worms could create a yield problem.  In 2017, Arkansas hit its all-time record for soybean yield, which is the amount of product harvested from each acre. A low yield results in a loss of income for the farmer.

“The crop, visually, doesn’t look as good,” said soybean agronomist Jeremy Ross. He described driving past soybean fields and not seeing the uniform height of the plants that he would prefer to see at this time of year.

Still, Ross said soybean yield might be OK this year but is not likely to meet the record levels set in 2017.

Concerns about this year’s soybean yield come at a time when prices have already dropped by two dollars per bushel from an average of $10.50 to $8.50 as the trade war between the U.S. and China continues.  Soybeans are subject to an extra, 25 percent tariff pending an end to the dispute.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you!

Ann Kenda joined Arkansas Public Media in January 2017 from Sudbury, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Syracuse University and previously worked in public radio, commercial radio and newspaper in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She focuses on health, justice, education and energy as part of the Arkansas Public Media team. Her stories can be found on the airwaves, and social media.
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