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2000 Planting Intentions Reflect Crop Challenges
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi farmers have looked to the sky, the markets and their pocketbooks to make planting decisions for a year that already promises to be a challenge.
Winter rains brought little relief from last year's late season drought, so farmers had a rare opportunity to begin planting corn earlier than normal this spring. Mississippi farmers planted about 55 percent of their corn with 40 percent emerging by the end of March, compared to the five-year average of 21 percent planted and 4 percent emerged.
"The accelerated corn planting progress, particularly emerged corn, is because of the warm, dry weather during late February and the first part of March," said Erick Larson, corn specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "Normally, wet, cool conditions severely limit corn planting during late February and early March."
Rains the last half of March slowed planting progress considerably. Larson said he expects corn's planted acreage in 2000 to be near the five-year average.
"1998 was a terrible corn year with low yields (86 bushels per acre), corn borer and aflatoxin problems. That prompted growers to reduce acreage last year to a five-year low of 350,000 acres," Larson said. "Then 1999 was as good as 1998 was bad. Growers were able to beat the previous record yield by 10 bushels per acre."
State corn growers produced a record 107 bushel-per-acre average in 1997 and 117 bushels in 1999.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's planting intentions report predicts Mississippi's corn acreage to increase 6 percent to 360,000 acres. The national corn crop is expected to have about 1 percent more acres than in 1999.
Larson said Mississippi's grain sorghum has been making a steady increase in recent years. Farmers grew 40,000 acres in 1998 and 60,000 acres last year. According to USDA, grain sorghum acreage will double this year.
"Grain sorghum is a hardy crop on less productive soils, is not expensive to grow and is drought tolerant," Larson said. "We'll see some soybean acreage switching over because they are good rotation crops and are well suited on similar soils."
The USDA report predicted a 10 percent decline in Mississippi soybeans. Growers are expected to plant 1.75 million soybean acres, or 200,000 fewer than last year.
Mississippi's cotton is expected to increase 50,000 acres to about 1.25 million acres.
Extension cotton specialist Will McCarty said state growers will likely exceed USDA's planting estimate.
"We are already concerned about soil moisture since we're starting the year about 15 inches short from 1999," McCarty said. "Growers will need to be prepared to irrigate earlier than normal."
Some growers are opting for stale or no-till methods to improve moisture retention and to help cut fuel costs. McCarty encouraged growers to apply burn-down herbicides before competing plants begin robbing the crop of moisture.