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Farmers Weigh Risks As Planting Begins
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Farmers with a sense of adventure have made their decisions, paid the price and now are preparing for the first plunge on the agricultural roller-coaster ride of 2000.
Poor market prices and drought challenges in recent growing seasons are making farmers think more than twice as they make planting decisions.
"This is not going to be a good year to make a lot of changes in a farming plan. Growers need to rely on the basics," said Alan Blaine, soybean specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
The basics include selecting proven varieties, following planting date recommendations and timing chemical and water use effectively. Reduced tillage is a good option following last fall's dry weather, and the use of burn-down herbicides will enable growers to cut fuel costs and conserve soil moisture in what looks to be another dry year.
"Farmers should be giving priority to low-cost and no-cost management options," Blaine said. "It has been interesting to see individuals reaching drastically different decisions. Some are determined to plant more beans, less cotton, and some are going the other direction."
Extension cotton specialist Will McCarty said many farmers are opting for cotton because of the revenue potential. Despite low market prices, which are equally damaging to other crop choices, cotton farmers have several risk management tools available including crop insurance and the potential for loan deficiency payments.
"Whenever we increase the cotton acreage, we increase the chance of planting on less-than-ideal soil," McCarty said. "Cotton planted on those fields are even more at the mercy of weather conditions."
McCarty said farm fuel costs are a major concern as prices are running twice as high as last year.
"Reduced tillage is going to be more important this year. Anything farmers can do to reduce trips across the field will help," McCarty said.
Agronomists are predicting fluctuations in other crop acreage as well. Farmers may cut their rice acreage in half, and corn growers may increase their crop plantings by 100,000 acres. Warmer soils and drier conditions have enabled some growers to plant soybeans and corn earlier than normal.
This spring, the MSU Extension Service has placed an increased emphasis on helping farmers manage risks. In addition to statewide teleconferences, specialists established a web site dedicated to risk management issues at http://www.ext.msstate.edu/special/risk2000. County agricultural agents are providing risk management materials and advice to farmers trying to improve their profit potential.