Feature Story from 1995
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Economists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced their crop predictions Friday in the planting intentions report, but Mother Nature and farmers will get the final word.
Dr. Alan Blaine, extension agronomist at Mississippi State University, said although there were no major surprises in the acreage estimates, actual plantings will hinge on the weather.
"Weather always influences crop acreages. Delayed plantings because of rain will force farmers to second choice crops with later planting dates," Blaine said.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- An untimely freeze in leading wheat-producing states and ideal weather in Mississippi are encouraging signs for the state's wheat growers.
Recent rains provided about 1 to 3 inches of rain to help the wheat crop toward harvest near June 1. With little to zero disease problems thus far, growers will watch extra closely after the rains and hope for drying conditions.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Planting season is well underway, and Mississippi's weather conditions in 1995 have been among the best in recent years.
"The best thing this year is that the river hasn't been the problem it was in the last couple of years," said Don Bales, Wilkinson County agent. "The bottomland (near the river) is in good shape except for some cotton acres that had to be replanted after a heavy rain around April 11."
STARKVILLE -- Cotton prices are on the rise, even if the Midsouth crop is not. Rains and cooler than normal weather are delaying the planting and growth of Mississippi's 1995 cotton.
Dr. O.A. Cleveland, extension marketing specialist at Mississippi State University, said December futures, which
represent this spring's plantings, posted a life-of-contract high of more than 82 cents on May 3. Prices are about 15 cents higher than this time last year.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Rains and cool temperatures have delayed plantings for some Mississippi crops. Soybean growers, who have turned to earlier planting in recent years, may not have the luxury to take full advantage of this opportunity if conditions continue.
VERONA, Miss. -- Spring rains have given all Mississippi farmers a challenge to overcome. But untimely rains causing a poor quality crop could mean a loss of profits for growers and costly supplements for livestock owners next winter.
Timing is important in hay production -- from fertilizing before moderate rainfall to cutting when the crop is mature to harvesting before rains reduce nutrients.
Dr. Pat Bagley, head of the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona, said rains are making the first cutting of hay a challenge.
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- As state cotton growers keep an eye on rising cotton prices and river levels, they are planning strategies to battle insect pest attacks on the crop.
December futures currently are trading in the 82-cent to 83- cent range and have reached life-of-contract highs in the past week.
Dr. Bob Williams, interim state program leader for agriculture and natural resources at Mississippi State University, said several factors have boosted prices.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Depressed cattle prices are having a similar effect on producers. As prices reach their lowest levels since January 1987, most market watchers expect little relief until the national herd size starts decreasing around 1997.
Dr. Charlie Forrest, extension agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said prices for the best 400 to 500 pound steers averaged in the low $70s per hundredweight during May. May 1995 prices are about 20 percent below year-ago figures.
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
STARKVILLE -- As Mississippi catfish producers head into their busiest time of the year, processing and prices are up, while fish supplies remain tight.
Both catfish processing and sales have been strong for the first quarter of 1995.
"Catfish processing is up 6.4 percent -- an increase of 9.4 million pounds from the first quarter of 1994," said Bill Allen, president of the Catfish Institute in Belzoni.
Allen said fish supplies have been tight through this spring, which is normal for this time of year.
VICKSBURG -- Gambling on the river has a different meaning to farmers with thousands of crop acres under water for the fourth time in five years. Spring planters optimistically thought, "What are the odds?" Now they know -- 100 percent.
The Mississippi River peaked in Vicksburg at 47 feet on June 12 -- 4 feet above flood stage -- its highest level in 12 years.
The 1995 flood is topping 1994 levels by 1 foot and almost six weeks later than last year's crest date.
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- As estimated national corn acreage and yields continue to drop, Mississippi growers have a chance to lock in a good price for their crop. The deciding factor for 1995 corn yields and prices to growers will be the weather, which caused the current decline in estimated acreage and yields.
Dr. Tom Jones, extension agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said December corn futures have closed as high as $2.92 per bushel in recent weeks.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Watermelon growers are licking their lips over the high prices melons are selling for during the busiest consumer week of the season. Unfortunately, a shortage of seeds for planting reduced acreage and has decreased harvest supplies.
Dr. David Nagel, extension horticulturist at Mississippi State University, said watermelon acreage is down from 9,600 acres in 1994 to about 8,500 this year statewide.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Usually when a crop is showing as much promise as this year's rice crop, prices trend lower. However, with state and national rice plantings down in 1995, growers are seeing higher prices at the market.
DeWitt Caillavet, extension economist at Mississippi State University, said in addition to fewer acres, the market is benefitting from a weaker world crop and continued strong demand. Several major rice exporting countries will be importing rice this year due to production problems resulting in lower yields.
By Moira Brodnax
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Improved efficiency, favorable weather and new technology contributed to a record-breaking blueberry harvest for Mississippi producers this year.
Mississippi blueberry producers who are members of the Miss-Lou Blueberry Growers Association harvested 2 million pounds of blueberries during the state's prime harvesting period.
Harvesting of about 1,000 acres began in May and continued until the second week of July, with most varieties finished by July 4.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Wheat prices are reaching the highest levels in 10 years. Unfortunately, a small 1995 harvest means few growers will enjoy the financial fruits of their labor.
DeWitt Caillavet, extension agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said wheat prices have been in the high $4 range in recent weeks. September futures reached life-of- contract highs on July 17 of more than $4.60 per bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade. At some of the smaller exchanges (Kansas City and Minneapolis), wheat traded over the $5 per bushel level.
STARKVILLE -- High temperatures and scattered showers are challenging Mississippi's cotton roots to plunge deeper for the water they need to develop and retain bolls.
"Any major stress on a cotton plant in the first couple weeks of boll set (development) can cause the loss of bolls," said Charlie Estess, Coahoma County extension agent.
"We've seen some boll loss in the recent weeks of drought and heat," Estess said. "Some of the scattered showers have lessened losses."
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Corn yields may not reach the record levels of 1994, but most growers are optimistic despite dry conditions in parts of the state.
Little damage was reported from the initial storms related to Hurricane Erin as its remnants swept into Mississippi.
Dr. Dennis Reginelli, Noxubee County agent, said a wind storm the week before Erin caused some growers to harvest fields a week earlier than they might have otherwise. Most growers in Mississippi will begin harvesting in a couple of weeks.
STARKVILLE -- Don't let the name fool you, tobacco budworms love cotton. Extremely high numbers have invaded Mississippi's hill section fields at levels that defy control efforts -- seriously lessening yield potential.
Tobacco budworms are the primary pest cotton farmers must control. They feed on cotton squares and bolls (usually less than 20 days old) resulting in those bolls shedding from the plants.
These pests do not damage the leaves, so plants appear healthy at first glance.
STARKVILLE -- High humidity and temperatures near 100 degrees are leaving Mississippi's soybeans in critical need for rain. Each day without a weather break is another day of reduced yield potential.
Dr. Alan Blaine, extension soybean specialist at Mississippi State University, said most of the state's crop is blooming and setting pods -- a stage when moisture is critical.
"We're seeing blooms and fruit shedding from stressed plants," Blaine said. "At this rate, we probably won't reach last year's harvest levels, but the next 30 days will make or break this crop."
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
STONEVILLE -- As Mississippi's rice growers begin harvest, few expect to reap last year's record breaking yields. This summer's sizzling temperatures have reduced quality as well as yields in some cases.
"This year's rice yields are certainly nothing to write home about," said Dr. Ted Miller, extension rice specialist in Stoneville. "In the rice that has been harvested, some grains are not as plump as they could be -- one effect of the recent hot temperatures."
Miller said rice growers are averaging about 126 bushels per acre.