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Farmers Survive 1997's Wild Ride
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Like a real roller coaster ride, 1997 left some farmers saying, "Let's go again," and others saying, "No way."
Cold, wet conditions at planting time had row-crop growers struggling to plant fields. As the conditions persisted, the young plants struggled to mature.
"Early season conditions resulted in about 30,000 acres of cotton being destroyed -- mainly in Northeast Mississippi," said Dr. Will McCarty, extension cotton specialist at Mississippi State University.
Growers planted much of the state's cotton later than ideal.
"We had one of the coldest, wettest starts on record. Some areas in Northeast Mississippi received 40 inches of rain in April and May," McCarty said.
Odds already were against the crop as growers faced a high cost of production and relatively flat prices. The Freedom to Farm act and competitive corn and soybean prices influenced more growers away from cotton, their traditional favorite.
1997 was the first year since 1982 that Mississippi cotton growers planted less than 1 million acres, and only the third time since record keeping began in 1866.
Fields that endured the early season weather benefitted from better midsummer conditions and much better later season weather.
"This favorable weather allowed plants to mature late bolls. Insect pressure also was light to moderate," McCarty said. "The boll weevil eradication program in the hills resulted in one of the best top crops ever in that region."
Mississippi's 960,000 cotton acres are expected to average 820 pounds.
"1997 will be only the sixth time we've exceeded 800 pounds per acre and the first time we've done it in back-to-back years," McCarty said. "This could turn out to be one of our top five crops."
Mississippi's two row crops riding a new wave of interest are corn and soybeans.
Mississippi harvested about 450,000 acres of corn this year. Cool, wet conditions in May and June also took a toll on corn. Both acreage and yields are down this year, but corn remains a viable alternative as a rotation crop.
Dr. Alan Blaine, extension agronomist at MSU, said some soybean growers have harvested their "best-ever yields," and others experienced their "worst ever."
Soybeans' biggest problems were late plantings and insects in the Delta.
"We have got to aggressively control insects, such as bean leaf beetles and stink bugs, to protect yields," Blaine said.
Still, Mississippi is looking at yields of about 29 bushel per acre, which is one of the state's top four soybean crops.