Fall preparation paid off for many Mississippi corn producers who were able to take advantage of a gap in spring rains to plant much of their crop early.
Erick Larson, corn specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said warm weather and a break in typical spring rains has allowed farmers to make considerable corn planting progress this spring.
“Corn can be planted at much lower soil temperatures than the other row crops, so planting may commence as early as late February or early March if the weather is cooperative,” Larson said. “Timely and early planting is well known to be beneficial for high corn productivity.”
Larson said early-planted corn matures in early summer when temperatures are more likely to be mild and the chance of rainfall is greater than it is later in the season. These factors help increase yields.
He said most cornfields in Mississippi use some variation of the stale seedbed method of planting.
“The primary tillage work is accomplished in the fall, and the soil is formed into raised beds,” Larson said. “Growers are prepared to plant as early as possible in the spring. Herbicides are applied to kill off winter vegetation, and the only tillage needed may be to smooth the top of the planting beds.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated 63 percent of the corn crop in Mississippi was planted by April 2. The five-year average is 37 percent planted by this date.
“The challenge with planting early in the Midsouth is much of our high annual rainfall occurs this time of year and keeps fields too wet to plant,” Larson said. “Our five-year planting progress is low because we’ve had four of the worst planting seasons in my two-decade career in the last four years.”
Larson said the majority of the corn already in the ground was planted the week of March 20. Southern Mississippi and the Delta had the most significant progress during that time, but producers in areas of north and northeast Mississippi have not planted many fields.
“There’s still plenty of time to plant the crop, but we just need to miss some rainfall events and have some dry, sunny weather,” he said.
Heavy rains, such as those experienced across the state the first weekend of April, paused any kind of row-crop planting, but they also can challenge emerging and newly emerged corn.
“When you have adverse conditions as plants emerge from the soil, such as saturated soils, substantial rainfall and cool temperatures, that often creates variable seedling emergence and plant growth disparity through the season,” Larson said. “Our MSU research shows corn is very responsive to plant stand uniformity, and fields yield better when both plant growth and spacing are uniform.”
Corn acres are down this year nationwide. USDA estimates that Mississippi growers will plant about 530,000 acres, down from 750,000 acres last year. Market price is responsible for this decrease, with cotton and soybeans picking up the lost corn acreage in the state.
Brian Williams, Extension agricultural economist, said corn in Greenville in early April was selling for about $3.57 a bushel, and corn futures were trading for $3.63 a bushel.
“Prices are much lower than they were a few years ago,” Williams said. “For comparison, Greenville corn was selling for $3.66 a bushel last year at this time, $3.99 per bushel two years ago and $5.16 a bushel at this time in 2014.”
Corn prices are not as strong when compared with cotton and soybeans, leading to expectations for fewer corn acres and more cotton and soybean acres in the state and nation.
“The biggest driver is large corn stocks, both in the U.S. and globally,” Williams said. “We had record production last year, and even the relatively strong demand has not been able to keep up with supply.”