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Summer drought is hurting corn
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Dry weather statewide since mid-May has stressed Mississippi's corn crop and is expected to push yields well below recent levels.
“The thing that really broke farmers' backs this year is it's been a lot drier than normal,” said Erick Larson, small grains specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “We got into a summer weather pattern in mid-May where all we saw was scattered showers, and we usually don't get into that type of weather until after the Fourth of July.”
Larson said those areas of the state without rain or irrigation from mid-May to July will have “very poor to disastrous crops.” Those fields that got an inch or more of rain around Memorial Day weekend have substantially better non-irrigated corn crops.
Steve Martin, Extension agricultural economist in Stoneville, said fall prices are in the $2.50 a bushel range, which is better than last year and slightly above the historical average.
“Producers are going to need 150 bushels an acre to make a profit. Those who make low yields won't even break even,” Martin said.
Larson said only about 25 percent of the state's corn is irrigated, and nearly all of that is located in the Delta. He said irrigated corn should do fairly well, but the success of those acres will depend on the grower's ability to keep up with the crop's water demand.
“They're pumping probably twice as much as they normally do to produce a crop this year,” Larson said.
Dry weather and heat early in the season sped up the plants' maturity. Corn harvest usually begins about Aug. 10, but harvest may come sooner this year for the struggling crop. While it is too early to estimate yields, corn won't match last year's average of 133 bushels an acre.
“There will be a lot of dryland corn with yields less than 100 bushels an acre,” Larson said.
Rains in July will help, but Larson said the crop's yield potential already is damaged. Row crops need about 1.5 inches of rain a week at this point in the growing season. Fields need to consistently receive 2 or more inches of soaking rain a week to meet crop demand and start replenishing soil moisture.
Dennis Reginelli, Extension area agronomics crop agent in east Mississippi, said much of the corn in Lowndes and Noxubee counties is in very bad shape.
“We started with a good-looking crop with very good potential,” Reginelli said. “After the last rain on May 10, it got really hot, windy and dry, and we were in the middle of pollination and then grain-filling. There's never a good time for a drought, but this hit at the worst possible time.”
Reginelli said some corn plants never developed ears because of the drought stress. Producers won't even try to harvest some fields, and will do well to harvest 25 bushels an acre on others. For perspective, Noxubee County has averaged 132 bushels an acre for the last five years.
Most corn acreage in east Mississippi is not irrigated, and those with irrigation draw water from watershed or runoff ponds and occasionally catfish ponds. Some ponds are dry and others with catfish have been pumped so low that the catfish are stressed.
Jerry Singleton, Extension area agronomic crops agent in the central and south Delta, said fields there have gotten between half an inch and 2 inches of rain since early May. About 95 percent of the area's corn acreage is irrigated, so producers should get decent yields, but many had hoped for record yields to make a profit.
“With average yields, they're going to lose money, and that's before the extra pumping costs for irrigation,” Singleton said.