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But other crops fairing better

Mississippi vegetables casualties of drought

Mississippi vegetable producers have been hard hit by heat and drought this summer, and corn growers are being advised by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC) to check with their crop insurance agents due to an outbreak of aflatoxin in the corn crop.

“There will be major losses from this year`s crop due to aflatoxin and the extremely high temperatures,” said Tallahatchie County Agent Jimbo Burkhalter. “Aflatoxin is a major concern with corn harvest.”

Aflatoxin is a natural fungus that is deadly in small quantities. It has devastated the corn crop in Louisiana. “We don`t think it will be as bad in Mississippi as it has been in Louisiana,” said Robert Lesley, director of public relations for MDAC. “Most grain elevators won`t accept corn if it gets above 20 part per million of aflatoxin. That is an extremely small concentration, and amounts to about two or three grains of corn in 20 bushels.”

Most farmers in Mississippi report fair, good or excellent conditions for major crops such as cotton, rice, peanuts, soybeans, and hay. A majority of peach and blueberry growers also report a good crop, and conditions for cattle and pasture lands are reported to be improving.

“Mississippi hasn`t been affected by the drought nearly as much as most of the Southern states, but there have been effects in various things,” Lesley said. “Some of the crops are coming in pretty good. It looks like the cotton crop is going to be good, and soybeans are going to be at least fair. Heat doesn`t seem to have been a major factor in a lot of the crops. But in vegetables it has.”

Billy Carter, manager of the Jackson Farmer`s Market, said most vegetable farmers across the state have had a bad season. Butter bean and field peas are scarce this year, and vegetables in general are more expensive than usual at the farmer`s markets due to adverse weather conditions.

About 60% of watermelon growers report poor conditions. But, ironically, the watermelons that were produced were reportedly sweeter due to the lack of rain.

Vegetable farmers are planting a fall crop, and hoping for more success.

Farmers in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia have faced even worse drought and heat conditions than Mississippi this year, and Florida has also had wildfires to contend with. But it remains to be seen if the failure of crops elsewhere in the Southeast might result in scarcities that would increase the value of the crop produced in Mississippi.

“Crop prices can`t be predicted,” Lesley said. “Farmers today compete in a global economy. Whereas the South has been dry in states like Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, other states and other countries may be having good crops in some of the same commodities that we produce in Mississippi. So you can`t really tell based on one region what the price is going to be.”

Lesley said there are reports that the Texas cotton crop has been devastated by drought. Texas is a major cotton producer, but cotton is also produced in countries around the world. Depending on demand, the failure of the Texas cotton crop may have little or no impact on the price of cotton.

The financial crisis in Asia is having an major impact on American agriculture. U.S. agricultural exports to Asia are down considerably which is resulting in plentiful stocks that are driving prices down and affecting agricultural profits nationwide.

“People who say the Asian crisis hasn`t affected the U.S. are overlooking agriculture,” Lesley said. “I believe agriculture is the biggest positive value in our balance of trade. The ag trade surplus runs about $20 billion per year. That is one of the things we do well. We export a lot more food than we import. If those exports are harmed by the Asian crisis, that hurts our trade deficit.”

There was rain and an easing of the heat in late July and early August in Mississippi, which has been a relief to farmers and livestock producers. Poultry and other livestock are affected by the heat, and the state`s large catfish industry also sees an impact. “I know the catfish growers are happy to see some lower temperatures,” Lesley said.

More information about current agricultural conditions is available through MDAC at the Web site: http://www. mdac.state.ms.us. From the homepage click on “Other Sites of Interest” for the Mississippi Agricultural and Statistics Service weekly updates.

About Becky Gillette

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