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State Rice Acreage, Prices Look Poor
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi rice acreage is following national trends and dropping as prices for the crop being planted do not look better than they did last year.
Some farmers got into the fields to begin planting the second week of April, but rain postponed most state rice planting until the third week. Joe Street, rice specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service and rice researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said the crop was about 25 percent planted by Good Friday.
"Most growers have been in the fields this week planting rice. The rains did delay planting, but we're in pretty good shape," Street said. "The recommended starting date is April 10 for the south Delta, and April 15 for the northern part of the Delta."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts Mississippi's rice acreage at 260,000 this year, down 20 percent from 1999 mostly due to poor prices. Cotton and soybeans are picked up the lost rice acreage.
While the varieties planted have a shorter season than what the state used to plant, Street said Mississippi rice growers generally plant full season varieties.
"We like to plant in April to get the rice crop headed before the real hot days in late July and August," Street said.
Heat and disease lowered last year's yields about 150 pounds an acre from the state's average of 5,700 pounds an acre, but this is still above the national average.
"I don't foresee any serious problems unless we have a drought that would limit pumping from surface water for irrigation," Street said. "Until these last rains, our lakes and streams were at their lowest point in recent history, and there is some concern that we may be entering a drought cycle."
Gip Carter, an owner/operator of Carter Plantation, Ltd., in Rolling Fork, said his operation is planting 750 acres of rice this year, down from more than 900 they planted in 1999. He said the decision was based on depressed prices caused by the oversupply of rice.
"Price can't go much lower. You have to be optimistic on that, anyway," Carter said. "Hopefully some of the decrease in acres in Louisiana and Texas will help some rice prices go up, but you never know."
Carter Plantation, which farms in Sharkey and Issaquena counties, is planting all their acreage in the Priscilla variety after planting just 250 acres of it last year.
"I don't think it did any better than our other variety, but the input costs are a little lower," Carter said.
James Smith, owner of Delta Rice Services in Webb, confirmed the poor price outlook.
"The price is depressed because our competitors have an abundant crop," Smith said. "Exports are way off from what they were in the past and we're relying on domestic use."
Even the nationwide reduced rice acreage is not expected to improve new crop prices, which currently are about $3.40 per bushel.
"As long as our export countries have such good crops, prices will stay poor," Smith said.