Time running out on farmers

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Published: November 20,2009

Tags: agriculture, disaster, Weather

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Many acres of Mississippi crops remain in the fields, but now most of what is left has no market value and will not be harvested.

Nearly all the state’s corn crop was harvested by Nov. 8, but large percentages of the other row crops were still in the fields. Historically, harvest of the state’s corn, cotton, soybeans, rice, sorghum and sweet potato crops is complete by late October to early November.

This year, fall rains kept producers out of fields for nearly a month, and only corn farmers were able to get the bulk of their crop harvested on time. Harvest on what was left began again in earnest the first week of November.

By Nov. 16, rice and sorghum were 99 percent harvested, and sweet potatoes were only at 50 percent. Soybeans gained ground rapidly and were at 94 percent harvested with cotton behind at 85 percent.

Mississippi State University agricultural economists calculate Mississippi farmers are suffering an estimated $485 million value loss in 2009. Cotton is expected to lose 48 percent of its potential value and soybeans about 44 percent, with an overall row crops loss of about 30 percent of the potential value.

“We’ve harvested just about all the soybeans we’re going to harvest this year,” said Trey Koger, soybean specialist with the MSU Extension Service. “We have a 25 percent to 30 percent  loss in value, and probably 150,000 to 200,000 acres won’t be harvested.”

State soybean farmers planted 2.15 million acres, so as much as 10 percent of the state’s soybean crop will never make it out of the field.

“Salvage buyers will pay $2 to $3.50 a bushel. At these prices, producers are going to go in the hole after factoring in the cost of machinery and labor to harvest the crop, roughing up the field and having to prepare it for spring planting, and nutrients lost if the crop is pulled off the field,” Koger said.

Some of the state’s soybeans were planted late, and these acres were in great condition at harvest in November, Koger said. Producers forced to give up on their soybean acres can bush hog or disk the fields once the ground dries or just plant over it in the spring.

Darrin Dodds, Extension cotton specialist, said cotton went from 14 percent harvested the first week of November to about 85 percent harvested by Nov. 16.

“Over the last couple of weeks, we should have been wrapping up harvest, but that’s when we made our biggest gains,” Dodds said. “If the weather holds out for the rest of the week, we should be all but done by about Nov. 21.”

Dodds said cotton yields vary greatly. Some fields are yielding as low as 200 pounds an acre to some as high as 1,400 pounds, which is a good harvest.

Dodds said. “The damage seems to be less as you go farther north in the Delta, but in the southern Delta, they planted a bit earlier and had more rain.”

Dodds said the crop suffered hard lock and boll rot problems as feared, and these are responsible for much of the reduced yields. In addition, problems with fiber quality have been observed. Reports of high micronaire as well as poor color grades have been common. Some producers are receiving preparation discounts, which are less common than other fiber quality discounts. Prep discounts are for smoothness or roughness of the cotton fiber. Harvesting, handling and ginning can affect the amount of prep discount that is received.

Those cotton producers with only a few hundred pounds of cotton per acre will have to decide whether or not to even run combines over the fields. Dodds said insurance providers would require most producers to harvest at least a portion of the crop to determine the extent of the insured loss.

Bronson Strickland, Extension wildlife specialist, said un-harvested, abandoned crops may provide some economic opportunities for producers.

“Although standing water has prevented producers from harvesting some crops in many parts of Mississippi, white-tailed deer and waterfowl will forage on these crops,” Strickland said.

Corn is often used as a high-energy food source for deer in supplemental food planting programs. Flooded grain and soybean fields can attract large numbers of waterfowl, but producers must plan for this use.

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