But, he said, “We just didn’t get the rain we needed.”
And what would have been a good yield at great prices – about $7 a bushel – turned into disappointment.
However, many growers like Atkins are feeling optimistic again. Rains in the past week have given new life to early corn plantings.
“It was looking real dry,” said Jamie Rogers of Plantersville, who has 400 acres of corn and 1,600 acres of soybeans. “It couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Atkins is crossing his fingers that the 930 acres of corn he planted will get enough water the rest of the season.
“The rains we got earlier in the week were perfect,” he said, walking through towering stalks of corn that were tasseling. “We needed the rain and it came at just the right time.”
Charlie Stokes, the area agronomy agent for the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said dry conditions were beginning to worry many growers who had planted early.
“Especially for corn, it was getting dry,” he said. “When corn starts to tassle, pollination starts and you need that moisture.”
Soybeans and cotton are more tolerant of drier conditions. Cotton thrives in heat. Both crops need water, of course, but for corn, a narrow window of opportunity closes quickly when it comes to getting the right amount of precipitation.
“You’ve got 10 to 14 days to get the water that’s needed early,” Stokes said. “It’s a one-shot deal for corn. With beans and cotton, there are more windows of opportunity to get water.”
Jerry Webb, owner of Webb’s Agricultural Flying Service, said many of his clients were glad to have the rains come at the right time.
“Everybody I talked to said the rain was needed, especially with this early start,” he said.
“I’ve been flying since 1974 and this is the earliest start I’ve ever seen to the season.”
A mild, dry winter allowed growers to get to their fields as early as March – about a month ahead of schedule.
“Having this rain – they’re sitting pretty right now,” Webb said. “Everybody I’ve talked to is smiling.”
Rains now don’t guarantee anything later, but it’s a good start.
Brian Johnson of Mantachie said his 100 acres of corn and 1,700 acres of beans got a good soaking.
But, he said, “you never can be happy. We got pretty much what we needed.”
LESS COTTON, MORE PEANUTS
Stokes said, following the trend of past years, that cotton planting is down, mostly due to low prices. That’s opened more fields to peanuts, especially with prices rising.
But not all growers can transition from cotton to peanuts because the latter grows best in sandy soil.
Corn and bean plantings in Stokes’ six-county area are relatively flat to last year, he said.
“Most of the time, the ones who are rotating pretty much stick to what they’ve been doing so there won’t be a lot of movement one way or the other,” he said.
The milder winter allowed quite a lot of corn planting in March.
“We’re off to a good start,” Stokes said. “There were few replacements and if we get more rain next week, it would be wonderful.”
The relatively milder temperatures also have had a positive impact on corn.
“If the temps stay in the 80s or low-90s, it makes a big difference in pollination,” he said.
The early corn will be ready for harvest by August, which means there’s plenty of weather left before then.
With a bushel of corn hovering about $2 lower than a year ago, a strong yield is needed to make up the difference.
“Right now, I’d be happy with getting $5.25 a bushel,” Atkins said.
Atkins and other farmers know too well how fickle nature can be, and he knows a good start doesn’t necessarily lead to a good finish.
So, he said with a laugh, “We’ll take rain any chance we can get it.”