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Row-crop prices tank but livestock, poultry save Mississippi’s bacon

big big cow_rgbBy JACK WEATHERLY 

Row crop prices fell anywhere from 19 percent to nearly 30 percent last year in Mississippi, taking a huge chunk out of farm income.

The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the state’s farm income fell $972 million from 2013.

However, a major factor in that drop was the roughly $340 million that black Mississippi farmers got in 2013 as their share of a national settlement of $1.1 billion with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a result of alleged longterm discrimination, according to Carrie Litkowski, an economist with the bureau.

Nevertheless, more than $600 million of the income fall-off was the result of a decrease in commodity prices, Litkowski pointed out.

Livestock, poultry and forestry bailed out the row crops and helped push overall income to about $7.7 billion, matching the record set in 2013, according to a report from Mississippi State University.

Brian Williams, an agricultural economist at Mississippi State, said he anticipates fallout from the row-crop downturn.

Some marginal land will probably be returned to pasture or left fallow, he said.

Additionally, Williams expects, more farmers will turn to futures contracts and other measures, such as storage and waiting or a more-favorable market.

Farm implement dealers will likely feel the effects of the downturn, Williams said.

Deere & Co., the largest maker of farm equipment announced in February that it had lowered its earnings estimate for 2015 to $1.8 billion from $1.9 billion because of lower crop prices, according to Bloomberg.

“We are also starting to see land values come back down a little bit,” he said.

Meanwhile, production costs, such as fertilizer, remained about the same, putting farmers in a squeeze, he said.

A key ingredient in making fertilizer is petroleum, and even though oil prices have declined steeply in the past year, following lead of natural-gas, much of the fertilizer that will be used this year was made before that trend, or was booked in advance, he added.

Row crop values in Mississippi amount to about $2.5 billion.

Poultry production in 2014, meantime, was $3.13 billion, compared with $2.88 billion the year before, Williams said. Poultry prices have gone up, aided by lower feed prices, primarily corn, he said.

Livestock — cattle and hogs — accounted for $595 million.

“Production for cattle up 33 percent, year over year,” he said, explaining that production  is measured primarily ion beef calves, which accounted for an increase of $396.7 million compared with 2013.

“That’s one industry that’s kind of shining. Cattle have been setting all kinds of records during the past two years.”


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