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Nowhere to go but up

Farmers enjoy record-setting year in 2010

Compared to the disaster that was 2009, this year was a banner one for Mississippi’s agriculture community. In the end, there was nowhere to go but up.

Still, the estimated total production value for the state’s crops set a new record in 2010, and some commodities posted their best season in years, especially catfish and cotton.

And farmers recently received more good news — the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finally set the sign-up rules for disaster assistance designed to offset the historic losses suffered in 2009.

Agricultural economists with the Mississippi State University Extension Service are forecasting that the total 2010 production value for farmers statewide is $6.9 million. That would shatter the record set in 2005 by $500 million, and represents a 19 percent increase over 2009 and 45 percent, or $1.55 billion, compared to 2000.

MSU Extension Service economist Michael Riley said farmers’ performance would have been better over the decade if the market had not peaked while crops were still in the field. But in 2010, producers finally had two things working for them — solid prices and beneficial weather, unlike 2009 when farmers watched their work wash away due to torrential rains at harvest.

Poultry easily held on to the top spot on the state’s commodities list, ringing in at $2.5 billion ($2.3 billion in broilers, $178 million in eggs and $5 million in chickens). That is up 8 percent compared to 2009, and is more than double the state’s No. 2 commodity, forestry ($1.08 billion).

Poultry was boosted earlier this year when Russia agreed to end its ban on U.S.-imported poultry. Danny Thornton, MSU Extension poultry specialist, said the economy has also played into the poultry industry’s hand.

“If anything, the current economic situation has encouraged even more to turn to inexpensive ways to feed their families,” Thornton added. “Not only are consumers buying more chicken, they are buying a lot more eggs.”

Forestry experienced a tough year in 2009 when the crop’s value dropped below $1 billion for the first time in more than a decade and a half. A wet fall in 2009 impacted harvest and sales, and kept harvesters idled through the first quarter of this year.

The tight supply caused a rise in prices, and the woods dried just as prices spiked.

“When the woods dried out, activity stayed fairly level for the rest of the year,” said David Jones, MSU assistant Extension professor of forest products.

In 2000, soybeans ranked sixth among the state’s commodities. By 2007, it was third, and it held to that position this year with an estimated production value of $821 million.

Riley said, “The industry has benefited from the research and Extension efforts that have improved state yields from a typical 25-30 bushels per acre in the late 1990s and early 2000s to the current average of about 40 bushels per acre.”

There is some concern here, however. Ernie Flynt, Central Mississippi Extension area agronomist said the lack of moisture is causing some storage concerns and could cost growers money. Flynt said it is difficult to estimate the overall moisture levels of soybeans that were harvested during the extended dry period, but he heard some fields with moisture levels as low as 8 or 9 percent.

“When this happens, a lot of marketable weight is lost, and beans become more prone to mechanical damage in the combine, during transfer to carts and trucks and during storage operations of loading and unloading bins,” he said. “All of this resulted in discounts for both weight and quality.”

Catfish posted a modest 1 percent growth in value compared to 2009. Still, that was the first increase in four years for an industry that has been on a downward trend that stretches back into the 1990s. The $199 million registered by catfish in 2010 makes it the seventh-largest commodity in the state, just behind rice ($224 million).

The state’s farming community even got some good news about 2009, the worst year for the state’s producers in a half-century. Last November, the USDA declared 79 of the state’s 82 counties primary disaster areas due to flooding rains.

After much anticipation — and grumbling from producers and agriculture officials — the U.S. Department of Agriculture released details of assistance available to help offset the massive 2009 losses.

“The Department of Agriculture has finally announced the sign-up rules for the SURE (Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments) program for 2009 crop losses,” announced Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

For more information on the SURE program, visit Farm Service Agency county offices or www.fsa.usda.gov/sure.

The good news from the agriculture community has a ripple effect throughout the entire state’s economy, officials say. The industry is a reliable economic barometer.

“Our economy is still based on agriculture, our top industry,” said Andy Prosser, spokesperson at the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. “As we try to dig our way out of the recession, it is a great sign to see our farmers doing well.”

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