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State's Corn Faces An Uphill Battle
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The benefits of rotating corn with other crops continue to attract growers, despite the struggles with low prices and challenges from Mother Nature.
Dr. Erick Larson, corn specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said last year's difficult season and current low market prices resulted in corn acreage falling from 550,000 acres to 320,000 this year.
"However, corn acreage should be sustained in Mississippi due to the significant benefits it produces in rotation with other crops and the advantages of the regional corn market," Larson said.
The agronomist said the current corn outlook is better than last year at this time because of soil moisture and the lack of heat stress. Fields in Southeast Mississippi are experiencing a desperate need for rain, but other parts of the state are near normal.
"Last year, some Delta growers started irrigating the third week of May, and it was considerably hotter, too," Larson said.
Coahoma County agent Ann Ruscoe said corn acreage has dropped from about 21,000 last year to less than 10,000 this year in her county.
"Last year's experience with aflatoxin and this year's prices have dampened some growers' opinion of corn, but they still like it as a rotational crop. Growers have been fortunate with the amount of rain thus far into the growing season and the lack of hail damage," she said.
"Growers just don't have a lot to be excited about because of the price of corn," Ruscoe said. "People are trying to cut costs, but you have to be careful where you cut. You still have to control insects and weeds."
Dr. Tom Jones, Extension agricultural economist, said prices are running about 30 to 40 cents per bushel below year-ago figures. Still, he said there is reason for optimism.
"A private analysis has speculated that the United States may lose as much as 1.47 million acres of corn, with the majority switching to soybeans," he said. "That would certainly help corn prices."
Jones said if the state produced an average yield of 100 bushels per acre, the break-even cost would be $2.47 on total costs. Current new crop prices are between $2.14 and $2.24.
Larson said Mississippi averaged 90 bushels per acre last year as growers battled heat stress and corn borers. Aflatoxin development in corn was the worst since 1977 in Mississippi.
"Informal survey results show about 20 percent of the 50 million bushel crop produced this year was sold at a discount because of high aflatoxin levels," Larson said. "Another 4 percent of the crop was abandoned due to excessive aflatoxin levels. Aflatoxin development was stimulated by high temperatures persisting throughout the growing season."
The agronomist said water stress and insect pressure also enhanced aflatoxin development by affecting grain and fungal development.