STARKVILLE -- Hurricane Opal's unwelcome rains showed Mississippi's crops more mercy than Alabama's, but a delay in harvest is anything but good news for farmers struggling to put 1995 behind them.
The late-season hurricane dropped relatively small amounts of rain on the Mississippi Delta and from 2 to 3 inches on the eastern side of the state. Unfortunately, any rain at this point in the season provides only negative effects on the harvest-ready crops.
STARKVILLE -- With harvest in full swing, Mississippi's peanut crop is faring well despite this year's dry growing season. Although growers will not enjoy 1994's high peanut yields and quality, both disease and insect pressure have been light this year.
"This has been an off year for a lot of crops, but peanut yields are fairly good," said Dr. Alan Blaine, extension agronomist at Mississippi State University. "This is particularly true in the north Delta, considering how long it has been dry."
STARKVILLE -- Growers are hoping for more rainfall to aid harvest of Mississippi's 6,000 acres of sweetpotatoes.
Acreage is up about 20 percent for 1995, due to good prices and expanding markets for Mississippi's sweetpotatoes.
"Our sweetpotatoes are high quality, and are competing well in the marketplace," said Benny Graves, plant pathologist with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry in Starkville.
STARKVILLE -- Cotton yields will not be what many growers dreamed of when they increased Mississippi's crop by 100,000 acres to take advantage of stronger prices. Higher than normal insect pressure and excessive heat have taken their toll.
"Preliminary yields do not look good," said Dr. Will McCarty, extension cotton specialist at Mississippi State University.
The Sept. 1 crop report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture brought bleak news on the expectations for Mississippi's crop.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hot, dry conditions that have burned up yards and pastures cannot do much more damage to Mississippi's row crops. Any rains arriving at this point will have little impact on the crops' development and may hurt harvest quality.
Dr. Erick Larson, extension agronomist at Mississippi State University, said corn may be the one bright spot for this year's dim harvest outlook. Recent weather conditions have helped the corn dry appropriately for harvest.
STONEVILLE -- As Mississippi's rice growers begin harvest, few expect to reap last year's record breaking yields. This summer's sizzling temperatures have reduced quality as well as yields in some cases.
"This year's rice yields are certainly nothing to write home about," said Dr. Ted Miller, extension rice specialist in Stoneville. "In the rice that has been harvested, some grains are not as plump as they could be -- one effect of the recent hot temperatures."
Miller said rice growers are averaging about 126 bushels per acre.
STARKVILLE -- Don't let the name fool you, tobacco budworms love cotton. Extremely high numbers have invaded Mississippi's hill section fields at levels that defy control efforts -- seriously lessening yield potential.
Tobacco budworms are the primary pest cotton farmers must control. They feed on cotton squares and bolls (usually less than 20 days old) resulting in those bolls shedding from the plants.
These pests do not damage the leaves, so plants appear healthy at first glance.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Corn yields may not reach the record levels of 1994, but most growers are optimistic despite dry conditions in parts of the state.
Little damage was reported from the initial storms related to Hurricane Erin as its remnants swept into Mississippi.
Dr. Dennis Reginelli, Noxubee County agent, said a wind storm the week before Erin caused some growers to harvest fields a week earlier than they might have otherwise. Most growers in Mississippi will begin harvesting in a couple of weeks.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Wheat prices are reaching the highest levels in 10 years. Unfortunately, a small 1995 harvest means few growers will enjoy the financial fruits of their labor.
DeWitt Caillavet, extension agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said wheat prices have been in the high $4 range in recent weeks. September futures reached life-of- contract highs on July 17 of more than $4.60 per bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade. At some of the smaller exchanges (Kansas City and Minneapolis), wheat traded over the $5 per bushel level.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Usually when a crop is showing as much promise as this year's rice crop, prices trend lower. However, with state and national rice plantings down in 1995, growers are seeing higher prices at the market.
DeWitt Caillavet, extension economist at Mississippi State University, said in addition to fewer acres, the market is benefitting from a weaker world crop and continued strong demand. Several major rice exporting countries will be importing rice this year due to production problems resulting in lower yields.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Watermelon growers are licking their lips over the high prices melons are selling for during the busiest consumer week of the season. Unfortunately, a shortage of seeds for planting reduced acreage and has decreased harvest supplies.
Dr. David Nagel, extension horticulturist at Mississippi State University, said watermelon acreage is down from 9,600 acres in 1994 to about 8,500 this year statewide.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- As estimated national corn acreage and yields continue to drop, Mississippi growers have a chance to lock in a good price for their crop. The deciding factor for 1995 corn yields and prices to growers will be the weather, which caused the current decline in estimated acreage and yields.
Dr. Tom Jones, extension agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said December corn futures have closed as high as $2.92 per bushel in recent weeks.
VICKSBURG -- Gambling on the river has a different meaning to farmers with thousands of crop acres under water for the fourth time in five years. Spring planters optimistically thought, "What are the odds?" Now they know -- 100 percent.
The Mississippi River peaked in Vicksburg at 47 feet on June 12 -- 4 feet above flood stage -- its highest level in 12 years.
The 1995 flood is topping 1994 levels by 1 foot and almost six weeks later than last year's crest date.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Depressed cattle prices are having a similar effect on producers. As prices reach their lowest levels since January 1987, most market watchers expect little relief until the national herd size starts decreasing around 1997.
Dr. Charlie Forrest, extension agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said prices for the best 400 to 500 pound steers averaged in the low $70s per hundredweight during May. May 1995 prices are about 20 percent below year-ago figures.