A warm winter and spring have let Mississippi farmers get soybeans into the ground early, and they expect to exceed last year’s planting.

About 69 percent of the crop had been planted by the end of April and 74 percent by May 7, compared to an average of 38 percent and 51 percent by those dates over the past five years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s phenomenal, said Mississippi State University Extension Service soybean specialist Trent Irby.

“Mid-to-late April is the optimum planting window to maximize yields, and we had the opportunity this year to plant a lot of our acres by the end of April,” Irby said.

He says beans planted then can benefit from summer rains and avoid late-season stresses that include heat and low rainfall, as well as some insects and diseases.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates Mississippi producers will plant 2.25 million acres of soybeans this year, up 10 percent from last year. That won’t be a record, but national plantings are expected to set a record of 89.5 million acres, up 7 percent from last year’s record 83.4 million acres.

Weed control can be a challenge with any crop planted early, noted Extension Service weed scientist Jason Bond.

“The soil temperatures and air temperatures that allow us to plant soybeans early have also allowed the summer weeds to come up early,” Bond said. “A big issue was making sure all the Palmer amaranth that had emerged at the time of planting was controlled.”

Also known as pigweed, it grows in every crop-producing county in Mississippi. It has developed resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, which is used extensively to control weeds in crops bred to tolerate this chemical. So, controlling Palmer amaranth requires careful management.

“We had Palmer amaranth coming up in March this year well before planting, where usually it is mid- to late April before any comes up,” Bond said. “With the crops and weeds coming up earlier, producers must stay on top of weed control soon after planting.”