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Farmers ante up and place bets in risky year

soybeansBy JACK WEATHERLY 

Mississippi farmers have doubled down on soybeans as a way to remain a player in the high-risk poker game that has seen winnings from past years dwindle.

Farmers say they will plant 2.3 million acres of the beans this year, up 4 percent from 2013, the most land devoted to that crop since 1988, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service report released Tuesday.

Beans, like the other major row crops, took it on the chin, with its price down 26 percent last year from 2013.

Among other losing bets last year in the state: corn, down nearly 24 percent; cotton, down 19 percent, wheat, down 29 percent.

“How does a producer handle that? A producer handles that by really getting a sharp pencil,” said John Michael Riley, ag economist at Mississippi State University.

“We’ve been sending the message to make sure you’ve got your production costs under control,” Riley said.

High-cost, inefficient producers “who got in the game back when prices were high . . . are not going to be able to handle a year like this one.”

“Lenders are looking really hard this year. And there’s potential stoppages of some lines of credit . . . next year.”

Corn got a big bet placed on it — 12 percent more land, 570,000 acres.

Cotton, erstwhile king, will see its domain shrink by 18 percent, down to 350,000 acres, with its 2014 price in Mississippi down about 15 cents a pound.

Rice will continue on its steady way, with 211,000 acres, up 10 percent, rounding out the biggest crops.

“We’ve kind of got the rice acreage whittled down to those producers who have the economies of scale” to handle it and so it stays in the 200,000 neighborhood, Riley said.

Mississippi trends reflect those of the nation’s, with the exception of corn, whose planting will be down 2 percent, to 89.2 million acres, the third straight year of decline, and lowest since 2010.

Soybeans are expected to be allocated 1 percent more land, to 84.6 million acres, a record high. Planting projections are up in 21 of the 31 major producing states, according to the statistics service.

Cotton shrinkage across the 17-state Sun Belt will be 13 percent, down to 9.55 million acres.

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