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Obstacles Hinder Early Planting
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- This year's growing season is off to a slow start as many different obstacles have kept farmers out of their fields.
Cool, wet weather during March and into early April has muddied fields and kept soil temperatures low. Growers in counties across the state are watching the weather and waiting for fields to dry.
"Rain and cold temperatures in March did not allow any corn to be planted," said Walter Alford, county extension agricultural agent in Montgomery County "Cattlemen are anxiously waiting for grass to grow, since hay is almost non-existent."
In Prentiss County, cool, wet weather continues to delay land preparation and pasture recovery. Further southwest, rain has stopped planting and land preparation in parts of the Delta.
"Excessive rain and cold weather have resulted in damage to winter vegetable crops," said Kerry Johnson, extension agent in George County. "About 1,000 acres of corn are being replanted."
About 36 percent of the state's corn crop has been planted, while watermelons and sorghum are 13 percent and 1 percent planted, respectively.
Dr. Erick Larson, extension corn specialist at Mississippi State University, said many growers are hoping to plant soon, but the wet weather is causing delays.
Economists predict Mississippi's corn acreage will rise 83 percent for 1996, depending on the weather and field conditions.
"The early March freeze damaged about 20,000 acres of early-planted corn in the Delta, mostly around Greenville," Larson said. "Fortunately, some of the early corn had not germinated before the freeze, so it escaped damage."
In Walthall County, growers are beginning to evaluate the damage to early-planted corn from several snaps of freezing weather.
Growers should keep the weather in mind as soybean planting time draws near, said Dr. Alan Blaine, MSU extension soybean specialist.
"Growers are thinking about early-maturing varieties and early planting dates now more than ever before," Blaine said. "Before deciding when to plant, consider the drainage capabilities in fields, the soil types and the forecast for weather following planting."
State soybean acreage is expected to reach about 1.9 million acres for 1996.
Blaine said the optimum window for planting early-maturing soybeans is mid-April through May 10.
"This window doesn't mean you can't plant earlier or later, but that this usually is the time when soil temperatures reach the acceptable level of 55 degrees for germination," Blaine said.
"This is not as cool as corn but much cooler than cotton. Early planting is good -- just not too early."
The soybean specialist stressed that growers should carefully consider their planting dates, since given the grower demand this year, seed will be in short supply. There will not be enough early variety seed available to plant twice.
Some Mississippi growers have waited for the passing and signing of the 1996 Farm Bill before making final decisions on acreage. Both the U.S. House and Senate passed the new bill March 28. President Clinton is expected to sign the bill into law soon.
"Rain has stopped planting and land preparation, and we need a farm bill so planning can be finalized for cotton and rice," said Tommy Baird, Sunflower County agent.
The law is expected to cause some crop shifts in Mississippi, but the economic impact is difficult to predict.