Farmers are gearing up for another season, but as always, Mother Nature is exerting her power over their plans

Farmers are gearing up for another season, but as always, Mother Nature is exerting her power over their plans. During the past few years, the state has been plagued by drought. This time last year, nearly 61 percent of the state was either in a moderate drought or abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
This year, farmers are having to battle with too much rain.
In the most recent crop report from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the USDA, seven out of the eight agriculture observers reported that the wet weather was slowing down planting.
And the farther north in the state, the further behind farmers are in planting, said Charlie Stokes, an area agronomy agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
“It’s wet out there,” said Stokes, who is responsible for checking on and working with farmers in Northeast Mississippi. “We’re trying to get some dry weather where we can get some of these crops planted.”
When farmers are planting, soybeans continue to gain ground in Mississippi, while corn and cotton acres are expected to fall this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2009 Prospective Plantings report.
Mississippi farmers this year expect to plant 2.1 million acres of soybeans, up 5 percent from last year. The growth is one of the largest in the country, according to the Prospective Plantings report.
Nationally, soybean producers intend to plant 76 million acres, up slightly from last year. If that much is planted, the USDA said it will be the largest soybean acreage on record.
Numbers not set in stone
The report projects crop acreage in the country based on information from surveyed farmers. John Anderson, an agricultural economist with the MSU Extension Service, stressed in a recent MSU report that the numbers don’t reflect actual planted acreage.
“This is a survey-based instrument that reflects what people think they are going to plant,” Anderson said. “These numbers are a long way from being set in stone, and we’ll see some changes between now and when seed actually goes into the ground.”
Stokes said he thinks Northeast Mississippi farmers already have made changes to their crop mix because of the weather.
The bulk of the corn crop usually is planted in April, but he said because of the wet weather, “north of Tupelo, there’s not a lot of corn planted at all.”
Right now, corn will be the second-largest row crop in the state, with farmers planting 630,000 acres, down 12 percent from last year.
Nationally, 85 million acres are slated for corn, which would make this year’s planted area the third-largest acreage since 1949. The totals from 2007 and 2008 hold the top two spots.
Corn gained popularity recently after the government mandated renewable fuel standards. Corn is used in ethanol production, and Anderson and other economists expect a future increase in the demand for corn because of production needs.
But as rains delay corn planting across the country, farmers will look to replace those acres with soybeans.
Stokes said he is watching Midwest farmers to see what they do, because if they plant soybeans instead of corn, he expects soybean prices to go down because of the larger volume.
No more King Cotton
Once Mississippi’s mainstay crop, cotton continues to fall in popularity. Only 300,000 acres will be planted this year, down 18 percent.
It’s one of the largest decreases in the country and the lowest acreage on record for the state.
Stokes cited the price, saying there’s “still not a lot of incentive” for farmers to plant cotton.
Peanuts are a whole different story. Mississippi farmers this year intend to plant 20,000 acres of the legume.
The acreage is down 9 percent from last year, but USDA said nationally the acreage is down because of record production in 2008 and concerns about future demand because of the recent Salmonella outbreak.
Stokes said the newly opened Birdsong peanut buying facility in Aberdeen has been fueling growth of the crop in Northeast Mississippi. He said the facility so far has contracts for 13,000 acres in the state.
But no matter what crops farmers wind up planting, Stokes said they are focused on making a good yield this year.
“There’s no wiggle room with the input costs the way they are,” he said. “They just need to hang in there with this economy. If farmers can bring in their yields, it might be one of the bright spots in this economy if everything will work out.”
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

 

Carlie Kollath