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Frequent rainfall causes historic planting delays
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Poor weather has created so many rain delays that most of the nation’s row crop planting is behind schedule, and Mississippi is even farther behind than other states.
“We’re a month behind,” said Ernie Flint, an area agronomist who has been with the Mississippi State University Extension Service for 22 years. “I’ve never seen anything that compares with this spring. I’ve seen the Delta planted late but never the whole state.”
Before he came to MSU in 1991, Flint spent 18 years as a crop consultant, so he spoke from a long perspective in agriculture.
“It’s far from time to panic. There’s still time to get most crops in the ground before the absolute cutoff date,” Flint said. “Our farmers run up to 18-row planters, and some are changing drivers and running around the clock. They don’t like to do it, but the instrumentation and seed monitors they have make it possible for them to plant in the dark.”
Grady Dixon, an associate professor of geosciences at MSU, said the state’s abnormally cool and wet spring has broken some records.
“It has been unusually wet, both in the frequency and intensity of rains. This has been coupled with cooler temperatures that result in less evaporation,” Dixon said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that these conditions allowed only four days suitable for fieldwork in Mississippi during the two-week period ending on May 12.
According to USDA’s May 12 Crop Progress and Condition Report, with the exception of corn, Mississippi row crops are significantly behind schedule.
Corn was 91 percent planted, when typically it is 99 percent complete. By mid-May in the past five years, cotton has been 52 percent planted; rice, 86 percent; soybeans, 71 percent; peanuts 40 percent; sorghum, 66 percent; and watermelon, 93 percent. This year, however, cotton is only 7 percent planted; rice, 12 percent; soybeans, 17 percent; peanuts, 1 percent; sorghum 6 percent; and watermelons, 32 percent.
John Michael Riley, an Extension agricultural economist, said Mississippi is farther behind the rest of the country, which is also well behind normal planting progress.
“Mississippi is the second farthest behind with cotton planting and the farthest behind by quite a bit with rice planting,” Riley said. “Similarly, Mississippi soybean planting is the farthest behind among major growing states.”
Late-planted crops face greater insect and disease pressure, and they often reach peak water demand during the summer’s hottest and driest weather. Few financial tools exist to help growers limit the risks associated with late planting, and the crop insurance sign-up deadline has passed. Producers with crop insurance still have some time to get their crops in the ground.
“The final planting date for corn and sorghum has passed, but provisions exist to allow late planting of these crops,” Riley said. “Final planting dates for other crops have not passed, and these crops remain insurable.”
Brian Williams, an Extension agricultural economist, said markets have responded to planting progress in recent weeks.
“I think crop prices are currently supported at least in part by the slow progress. However, a few positive weather reports have caused sharp daily drops in prices on at least one occasion over the last week,” Williams said.
Planting is progressing at the slowest pace since 1990, but Williams said producers are not too concerned yet.
“Usually a producer is able to get a crop planted, even if it is not the crop that was initially planned,” he said. “We will likely see at least a few corn acres switched to soybeans this year because of the planting delays, but soybeans are much more forgiving of a late planting.”
Lester Stephens, Extension agricultural agent in Washington County, said the Delta has experienced severely delayed planting in the past, but about three weeks of good weather should give growers the chance to catch up.
“If we have pretty weather, it won’t take long to get it all planted,” Stephens said. “Everybody is a little frustrated now, but we’ll get it done.”