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Mississippi agriculture shrank by 3.1percent in 2015

ag statsBy JACK WEATHERLY 

Dragged down by major row crops, Mississippi’s agriculture sector shrank by 3.1 percent, to $7.51 billion in 2015 from $7.75 billion in 2014, according to agriculture economist Brian Williams.

Crops’ value fell nearly $500 million last year from 2014, but forestry and poultry buoyed the overall figure.

Yet, Williams, an assistant professor of agricultural economics for the Mississippi State University Agricultural Extension Service, said the 2015 figures fare poorly only because they come after three consecutive years in which records were set.

“We had three years in a row where that bar was getting raised higher and higher,” Williams said in an interview, adding, however, that “yield-wise, 2015 was still a good year.”

Soybeans, the state’s leading crop in terms of value, slipped 17.9 percent, to $1.03 billion from $1.25 billion.

Cotton led the way downward, with a 43.4 percent drop in value, to $192.6 million from $340.4 million in 2014.

Corn slipped 9.8 percent to $343 million from $380.4 million.

Rice took a 17.9 percent plunge in 2015 to $123.9 million from 2014’s $171.9 million.

Wheat was slashed 58.6 percent, though it is a much smaller crop, valued at only $71.7 million.

Commodity prices have an impact on allocation of land, Williams said. “Cotton prices were just not that good” a year ago, and even though yield per acre set a record for the state in 2014, harvested acreage fell 95,000 acres last year.

Average soybean yield was 46 bushels per acre last year, compared with an all-time best 52 bushels in 2014, but the 2014 performance was still only one bushel shy of the previous record set in 2012 and tied in 2013, Williams noted.

“Weather conditions in 2014 was just about perfect,” he said.

But he said he has “got to give the guys over in the agronomy department kudos in terms of finding ways to tweak the management practices for producers.”

Likewise, the agronomists work closely with seed developers by doing test plots and passing that information along to farmers, he said.

Silent Shade Planting Co. outperformed state averages in the crops it planted last year, but even so, yields were below the operation’s expectations, said Chief Executive Jeremy Jack.

Nevertheless, Silent Shade is bullish on 2016 – increasing the size of its operation to 12,000 acres from 8,500 in 2015.

The family-owned operation planted 3,500 acres of soybeans last year and averaged 52 or 53 bushels per acre, well above the state mean of 46.

“That was below budget and below our average,” Jack said. The yield “was a disappointment for us.”

Corn, likewise was below Silent Shade’s projection but still above the state average of 175 bushels per acre, he said. “It was 185 to 190 bushels.”

The Jacks are going big on corn this year, devoting 5,500 acres to the grain. “We planted a little today,” he said, though flooding in Humphreys County, which is bordered by the Sunflower and Yazoo rivers, has hampered preparations.

“We had a really good rice crop” with an above-average yield of 180 to 185 bushels. So it’s not surprising that the crop got a bigger share of the larger operation – 3,000 acres versus 1,200 last year.

Soybeans will get 3,200 acres, down a tad from the 3,500 last year, he said.

Again this year, the family will pass on cotton, Jack added.

The U.S. Agriculture Department held its annual Outlook Conference last month and projected acreage as follows: cotton at 9.4 million acres compared with 8.6 million in 2015; soybeans, 8.25 million, down from 8.27 million; corn, 90 million compared with 88 million, and rice, 2.8 million up from 2.6 million.

The USDA will issue its projected plantings report on March 31 for the nation and Mississippi.

Williams offered his opinion and private industry estimates on the state’s acreage, saying that soybeans, rice and cotton will be up and corn down.

Overall, “barring a drought, I think we’re going to have a good production year for most crops,” Williams said.

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