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Low Prices, Yields Hurt State Farmers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many state producers will remember 1998 as a farming disaster as low market prices compounded yield losses from heat, drought and hurricane.
Corn and soybeans took the biggest hit as low yields matched lower prices. Production value for both fell 32 percent from 1997 even though acreage this year was higher than last.
Dr. John Robinson, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said of the state's major row crops, only cotton yields compare favorably to recent averages. Corn, rice and soybeans fell below both 1997 yields and the five year average.
"Last year was an abnormally good year for yield, so it is not a fair comparison to this year, but most crops were below even the recent years' average," Robinson said.
Corn was the biggest loser to heat and drought, with yields down 25 percent from 1997 and 16 percent from the 1992 to 1996 average. Value per acre fell from $284 in 1997 to $175 this year. Soybean yields were only down 2 percent from recent averages - 13 percent off last year - but value per acre reached $154, down from $214 last year.
Cotton is Mississippi only major row crop that exceeded recent average yields and had higher prices. But production value was down 16 percent from last year to $591 per acre.
"Cotton value is lower in 1998 because of lower acreage and slightly lower yield even though season average cotton prices are expected to be slightly higher in 1998," Robinson said.
Rice production is down 7 percent this year and 5 percent over the last five years. Prices have remained strong, but production value fell 17 percent due to slightly lower yields on fewer acres planted.
"Some people will have a loss and because of this, they won't have enough revenue to cover production costs," Robinson said. "Whether that puts them out of business depends on their savings, debt situation and whether they can pay off operating loans."
Row crop growers in South Mississippi had the added devastation brought on by Hurricane Georges hitting at harvest.
Kerry Johnson, George County ag agent, said 4,000 acres of cotton were severely damaged, but the county's 1,000 acres of soybeans had only light to moderate damage.
"We have some soybeans that look good and others that don't," Johnson said. "Some of the damage is drought-based and some was caused by the storm, but it was not damaged by Georges to the same extent as cotton."
Only about 10 to 15 percent of the area's cotton had been picked before Hurricane Georges struck, and most of the cotton is not worth picking now, Johnson said.
"Corn in Southeast Mississippi was harvested before the hurricane, but was devastated by the drought," Johnson said. "Average yields were 40 bushels an acre. The county average is 80 bushels an acre with the top growers typically getting 120 to 160 bushels per acre."