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Drought hasn't stopped state record corn yields

MSU Extension Service

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Corn in the Delta is producing record yields because it was irrigated or caught timely rains, but corn elsewhere in the state struggled to produce low yields because of the drought.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting the nation will produce the largest corn crop in history. Mississippi's corn acreage increased from 340,000 acres in 2006 to 980,000 acres in 2007. The Delta, where most of this season's corn was grown, is experiencing record yields.

Delta farmers irrigated most corn acres, and despite the drought, many nonirrigated Delta acres received just enough rain to have good yields.

Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said he expects record-setting average yields in the Delta on irrigated fields.

“These yields have turned out extremely well, so it will be a profitable year, even though they did have to irrigate a lot,” Larson said.

Larson said timely rain in late June and July helped dry-land corn when it was filling seed weight, during mid to latter stages of grain fill. High temperatures in August had no significant impact on yields.

Tommy Baird, Extension director in Sunflower County, said corn harvest is nearly complete in his county and yields range from good to excellent.

“The furrow-irrigated corn went as high as a 225-bushel-per-acre average yield on 200-acre fields,” Baird said. “Even the dry-land corn we had here is averaging about 150 bushels an acre.”

Jerry Singleton, Extension area agent for agronomic crops, said Leflore County growers planted more than three times the corn they did last year, and they are harvesting good yields.

“Our record average yield was 161 bushels per acre in 2003. I think we'll probably break that record this year,” Singleton said. “We're probably 90 percent to 95 percent irrigated, and our biggest pocket of dry-land corn caught some timely rains.”

Jimbo Burkhalter, Extension director in Tallahatchie County, told of similarly high yields.

“The irrigated corn is turning out about 200 bushels an acre and more. Even the nonirrigated corn is showing some impressive yields,” Burkhalter said.

Because of high corn yields in the Delta on dramatically increased acreage, producers are finding long lines and delays at grain elevators.

“Sometimes the turnaround for getting unloaded has been three to six hours,” Burkhalter said. “Some have been driving farther to get unloaded and get on back.”

Many producers anticipated the bottleneck and made storage arrangements. Some built bins and others are using polybags to store about 7,000 bushels each. These have not previously been used for corn, and they are meant for short-term use because moisture condensation and high temperatures can spoil stored corn.

But corn did not fare well in all areas of the state. Melvin Oatis, Extension director in Benton County, said dry conditions in the hills made for a very poor corn crop in some fields. Depending on soil type, yields will vary greatly.

“I talked to a few farmers who said they may cut their corn for hay,” Oatis said. “We're about 15 inches below the average rainfall for the year, and some plants have very small ears with kernels that are not filled out.”

Larson, the state corn specialist, projected corn yields in much of the eastern part of the state will be about 100 bushels per acre, with yields ranging from 50 to 150 bushels an acre. Most of this corn is nonirrigated and received very little rain prior to and during the most critical growth stages.

John Anderson, Extension agricultural economist, said corn prices had slipped in August, but rebounded some. December futures were about $3.20 a bushel as of late August. Corn prices may decrease when the Midwest begins harvest.

“Corn may have a hard time getting off the defensive for the next few weeks as harvest moves north into major producing regions,” Anderson said.

Released: August 31, 2007
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