OUR OPINION: State’s agriculture seeks profit above tradition

By NEMS Daily Journal

Cotton’s reign as king of Mississippi row crops ended decades ago, and the throne has been claimed by others in an era when romantic notions about the Deep South’s economy give way to an annual, hard-decision process of planting what’s most profitable based on many variables.
Among row crops, soybeans have held the top position for a long stretch of years in Mississippi, but beans are, at best, a distant second to poultry and eggs in overall agricultural production rankings. Soybeans, as reported in the Daily Journal, in 2012 bumped forestry from the No. 2 spot behind poultry, with a $1.16 billion year.
Agriculture, despite relatively small direct employment numbers on farms, continues as a sector of economic expansion. The total value in 2012, reported by Mississippi State University, exceeded $7.3 billion, about $2 billion more than five years ago, with additional expectation for growth.
As has been the case for more than 200 years, foreign demand for Mississippi agricultural products factors into the economic outlook and in planning for planting and harvests.
Poultry and eggs, soybeans, cotton, forest products and other crops all have an export component. Poultry and eggs, forest products, and soybeans claim more than $4.5 billion of Mississippi’s total ag production.
The soybean crop, as MSU calculated, was a record at $1.16 billion, 42 bushels per acre and 82.3 million bushels total. In addition to its record value, Mississippi’s soybean crop set a record for average yield and sold at $14.55 per bushel on average.
Most of Mississippi’s major agriculture production plays out against a background of international market forces, especially crops like soybeans facing face stiff competition from expanding production in Brazil and Argentina, both exporters..
The USDA, in February, predicted a record U.S. bean harvest this year – 3.405 billion bushels. As reported by Reuters, the 2013 crops will be “a dramatic 13 percent increase from 2012’s drought-hit crop that will allow larger U.S. crushings and exports while rebuilding stocks.”
Soymeal exports are forecast to grow by 4 percent on stronger demand in Europe and Southeast Asia. USDA said in Reuters and other reporting the 2013 record crop would be grown on 77.5 million acres, and 1.95 million projected in Mississippi is 200,000 acres lower than 1.97 million in 2012. A lot rides on increasing productivity.
All other factors aside, two USDA long-term forecasts (through 2022) released in February that are not crop specific may have more impact than weather or the past year’s results:
• The weaker dollar will remain a facilitating factor in projected gains in U.S. agricultural exports. The United States will remain competitive in global agricultural markets, with export gains contributing to longrun increases in cash receipts.
• After initial price declines, “long term growth in global demand for agricultural products, a depreciating dollar, and continued biofuel demand, particularly in the United States, the EU, Brazil, and Argentina hold prices for corn, oilseeds, and many other crops above pre-2007 levels.”
A dose of measured optimism is always helpful is assessing risky ventures.