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Agriculture remains king of state’s economy

Just how much damage Hurricane Isaac did to crops in the southern portion of the state has yet to be fully determined.

Agriculture remains the number one industry in Mississippi with one out of every four residents employed directly or indirectly in that industry. In terms of the state’s best cash crop economically, the production of chickens and eggs is our number one commodity, with soybeans at number two and forestry at number three.

“Our economy is so agriculture based that when farmers have a good year, the state has a good year,” said Andy Prosser, deputy commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC). “Agriculture is the economic driver in terms of the value of production, and it will remain strong.”

The production of chickens has been the state’s number one commodity for the past 10 years. In 2012, that production was valued at $2.3 billion, which Prosser points out, is double the production value of soybeans and forestry. There are 1,500 farms involved in poultry production with many of them concentrated in the counties of Scott, Smith, Jasper and Copiah.

MDAC’s director of marketing Paige Manning says the big news of 2012 is the increased production of soybeans. “For the first time, the value of soybeans surpassed forestry,” she said. “Forestry production did not go down, but soybeans moved from number three to number two.”

The value of soybean production in the state last year was $1.16 billion; that’s $315 million above 2011. Approximately two million acres are devoted to growing soybeans with the majority in the Delta, and 2,600 farms are involved in this production. Bolivar County is the number one producer of soybeans.

“It was really a great year for soybean farmers,” Prosser said. “Price is what’s driving it. The price went up worldwide due to increased demand as soybeans are used for more things. Some countries did not have as good a yield as we did and our farmers took advantage of that.”

The drought in the U.S. Midwest was also a factor in driving up the price of soybeans. What weather conditions can be expected to play a role in this year’s production? Susan Buchanan with the National Weather Service says it’s too early to predict. “The summer forecast is so far out; a lot can change,” she said. “Right now we’re concentrating on spring weather.”

An increased amount of the state’s farming acreage went into producing soybeans in 2012, and the yield was a record year for bushels per acre. John Campbell, director of MDAC’s Bureau of Plant Industry, sees a continuing bright future for soybeans. “I believe the general consensus in the agriculture community is that Mississippi will continue to grow a large quantity of grains and prices will remain high,” he said. “The technology has improved tremendously over a decade and a half. We’ve made great strides in the varieties of seeds and the chemicals that can be used more effectively. All these factors point to more acreage in soybeans.”

Cotton, which traditionally was king of the state’s crops, is declining in state production. “A lot of factors have gone into that decline, but the main one is price,” Campbell said. “Other countries have a lot of cotton reserves on hand. The price of cotton would have to go up for production to increase here. Farmers would rather take the risk to grow grains than cotton.”

In 2012, forestry – including lumber, pulpwood, chips and wood pellets – was valued at $1 billion in terms of production. Timber production is distributed throughout the state although the Delta has less than other areas. There are 19.6 million acres devoted to timber, and Mississippi has 125,000 private land owners, more than any other state.

“Forestry production is largely dictated by the housing industry and that has been stagnant and slowly creeping up,” Prosser said. “I see it rebounding though because a lot of things have wood in them.”

Other important state crops include rice, corn, catfish, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Mississippi is the country’s number one producer of catfish and number two producer of sweet potatoes. “These crops employ a lot of people and send product all over the country as well as exporting abroad,” Prosser said.

Campbell says there’s an uptick in peanut acreage due to demand and price. East Mississippi along with the Clarksdale and Greenwood areas are producing a lot of peanuts.

“Agriculture is closely linked to the state’s and the country’s economy, and that’s not going to change,” he said. “Our state has a favorable climate, fertile and ample land, abundant and consistent water and the infrastructure needs to grow crops.”

Campbell and Prosser are encouraged that 2013 will be another good year for agriculture in Mississippi.

Mississippi is in the Top 20 in the production of 15 agricultural commodities

No. 1 in Catfish

No. 3 in Pulpwood

No. 3 in Sweet Potatoes

No. 5 in Broilers

No. 6 in Cotton

No. 6 in Cottonseed

No. 6 in Rice

No. 7 in Peanuts

No. 8 in Grain Sorghum

No. 9 in Blueberries

No. 9 in Pecans

No. 13 in Soybeans

No. 17 in Eggs

No. 17 in Hogs & Pigs

No. 17 in Corn for Grain

Source: Mississippi Ag Statistics Service / National Ag Statistics Service, USDA

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