Chickasaw farmers eye spring planting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACHICKASAW COUNTY – While most of us are contemplating when to plant tomatoes, much bigger decisions have been made by local farmers on what crops to sow this spring.

The U.S. government keeps up with what farmers across the nation expect to plant each year in an effort to monitor the nation’s food supply, set policy for crop price support and then releases a detailed forecast for the 2013 harvest and plantings in March. Much of that information comes from data gathered by county extension agents across the country.

“It looks like soybeans will be the No. 1 crop around here based on the acreage projected to be planted,” said Chickasaw County Extension Agent Dr. Bill Burdine. “That will be followed closely by corn. I expect to see the number of acres and fields planted in cotton fall off a little this year.”

Burdine said high prices for corn and soybeans last year coupled with rain and few bug problems allowed most Chickasaw County farmers who planted those crops to do well.

“The concern with corn is getting rain at just the right time,” said Burdine. “There is about a two-week window in the corn growth process when you need just the right amount of rain for the best germination.”

Burdine said soybeans can bounce back from heat stress and lack of rain. He also pointed out many farmers prefer soybeans because they don’t drain the soil of nitrogen like corn.

National numbers predict farmers in top U.S. grain states are planning to rotate to other crops after repeated plantings of corn on the same fields, combined with a devastating drought in 2012, badly hurt yields.

Iowa and Illinois farmers are expected to shift some acreage from corn to soybeans. Those two states account for almost 30 percent of the nation’s corn crop.

Soaring corn prices, due in part to surging demand for ethanol, in recent years have encouraged a greater amount of corn being planted on the same land year-after-year despite the fact the practice depletes soil of nutrients and reduces yields.

Corn acres are projected to shift from Iowa and Illinois to less-productive fields in North and South Dakota, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Corn fields in Northeast Mississippi were not hit as hard by the drought that struck most of the Midwest and Texas last summer. The capacity of local fertilizer suppliers to get liquid nitrogen product on Chickasaw County fields has also helped prod local farmers to plant corn.

Burdine said bumper corn crops in South America have influenced prices on the international market.

Burdine said the state has seen a dramatic drop in the number of acres planted in cotton and Chickasaw County has followed that trend.

“Five years ago we saw cotton farmers planting almost 2 million acres,” said Burdine. “Cotton is no longer king and we expect to see plantings under 199,000 acres this year.”

Burdine said sweet potato farmers had a little problem with end rot last year but saw a good crop overall.

“I expect sweet potato acreage to hold steady,” said Burdine. “If we get weather like we did last year, yields should once again be very good.”

Burdine said Chickasaw County has seen the number of field planted in peanuts go up for the past five years, but high corn and soybean prices may prompt some farmers to change their mind.

“We have had good peanut yields and getting the crop to market has not been a problem,” said Burdine. “I do think farmers are looking at a national peanut market that is flooded by good yields and that could drive down prices this year.”


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