By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi Christmas trees have thrived under unusually good growing conditions this year, and the trees are ready to be harvested by spirited holiday enthusiasts.
Dr. Stephen Dicke, extension forestry specialist in Raymond, said Mississippi's trees have weathered well this year and are looking good. Growers are facing only a few problems, such as needlecast, in some areas of the state.
Starkville grower Jeffrey Krans said needlecast is a disease that causes needles to fall out and affects tree density.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's cotton growers haven't closed their books on the 1996 crop, but insects clearly will not be the negative factors they were last year.
Many growers' books went in the red during 1995's tobacco budworm invasion prompting Mississippi growers to plant about 28 percent fewer cotton acres in 1996.
Dr. Blake Layton, extension entomologist at Mississippi State University, said insect costs in the state's hill area will be about half the 1995 levels. Delta growers may be looking at two-thirds of last year's control costs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's sweetpotato growers win the national bragging rights for the quality of this year's crop.
Buyers, who traditionally have looked to North Carolina for sweetpotatoes, are turning to Mississippi and Louisiana for much of this year's supplies.
The quality of the crop in North Carolina, the nation's top sweetpotato state, was affected by two damaging hurricanes.
STARKVILLE -- A second month of record high milk prices are a welcomed reprieve for embattled dairy farmers reeling from months of skyrocketing feed costs.
The record prices and somewhat lower feed costs arrived too late for more than 30 Mississippi dairies that have closed their doors since the first of the year.
Dr. Bill Herndon, extension agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said basic formula prices reached all-time highs in August and September.
STARKVILLE -- Despite an ideal growing season, most of Mississippi's traditional pumpkin producers will not be marketing their crop in 1996. The reduction doesn't stem from virus problems this year, but viruses in past years.
Dr. David Nagel, extension horticulturist at Mississippi State University, said growers have reduced the state's crop about 100 acres annually for the last several years. Most of this year's 375 acres are in smaller, noncommercial fields.
By Douglas Wilcox
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- After 1995's cotton disaster, most growers confess compared to last year's harvest the only one way to go is up.
Unfortunately, recent showers and cooler weather have made harvesting difficult, and many growers are beginning to wonder if Mother Nature is giving them the cold shoulder.
With about 40 percent of the crop out of the fields, growers need sunny days to maintain quality and finish harvesting.
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi's soybean growers are experiencing that age-old farming lesson: no one can predict the weather with certainty from planting to harvest.
"If someone could tell me exactly what the weather would do, I could tell them what soybean maturity group to plant," said Dr. Alan Blaine, extension agronomist at Mississippi State University.
PRAIRIE -- Squirrels and woollyworms aren't the only ones preparing for winter. Cooler temperatures signal the conclusion of hay harvesting and of planting time for winter grasses for Mississippi's cattle.
Although beef prices could be and have been worse, many cattle producers plan to feed their herds until spring, when better prices are more likely.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Another month closer to closing the books on the 1996 crops and farmers are starting to breathe easier.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released the Sept. 1 crop production forecast which yielded few significant changes from the August report. The similarity in the two reports was a pleasant change from last year, when a late drought and insects sent yield estimates plummeting.
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi's corn harvest is yielding both feast and famine conditions as harvests range from 40 to 200 bushels per acre. After a drought-plagued summer, much of the yield differences can be explained by one word -- irrigation.
Dr. Erick Larson, extension agronomist at Mississippi State University, said most dryland (or non-irrigated) corn yields are between 40 and 120 bushels per acre, depending on the luck of summer showers. Yields on irrigated fields are running between 110 and 200 bushels.
STONEVILLE -- September's rice harvest promises to give Mississippi growers something to celebrate -- high yields -- during national rice month.
Dr. Ted Miller, agronomist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said this year's crop will rival the record yields of 1994 when Mississippi averaged 5,900 pounds per acre. Rice harvesting began the middle of August and will finish the last couple of weeks of September.
STARKVILLE -- Cotton farmers can testify to what a difference a year makes. As favorable growing conditions continue, growers prepare for the final hurdle -- harvest.
At this time last year, growers were watching yield potential plunged until the final state harvest was 650,000 bales fewer than the Aug. 1 crop forecast. Tobacco budworms and an excessively hot August condemned the 1995 crop.
STARKVILLE -- Although farmers continue to be at the mercy of unforeseeable conditions, a recent report released on the eve of harvest season is painting an optimistic picture.
The Mississippi Agricultural Statistics Service's Aug. 1 crop production forecast is predicting larger state crops in soybeans, hay, and corn and sorghum for grain. With the exception of grain corn, yields per acre are expected to be higher in all major crops including cotton and rice.
STARKVILLE -- After two years of nothing but bad news and no hope for relief in sight, cattle producers are finally seeing some positive signs that tomorrow will be better.
Dr. Charlie Forrest, extension agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said the national cattle herd shrunk this year for the first time since 1990.
By Douglas Wilcox
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Caught between a rock and a hard place might best describe how Mississippi dairy producers are feeling this year. With the skyrocketing price of corn and low beef prices being offered for cull dairy cows, dairymen are facing a choice between paying higher feed prices or retiring and selling off their herds.
Dr. Tom Jones, extension agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, said last year's small corn crop is cutting into some dairy producers' profits and possibly forcing others out of business.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's soybean crop is playing out an agricultural version of the good, the bad and the ugly.
"Having gotten off to such a good start, it's disappointing to see what we have now in the state," said Dr. Alan Blaine, extension soybean specialist at Mississippi State University.
STARKVILLE -- Final figures for Mississippi's 1995 timber harvest show southern counties continue to lead the state in production levels.
Dr. Bob Daniels, extension forestry specialist at Mississippi State University, compiled the harvest data based on severance tax reports from the Mississippi State Tax Commission.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When cotton growers look down, they see plants full of potential. When they look up, growers see little hope of much-needed rains arriving in the next several weeks.
"Cotton needs rain soon to help the plants grow and fill out the bolls. Without a rain, we will start seeing boll losses," said John Coccaro, Sharkey County extension agricultural agent.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Supplies of fresh Mississippi-grown watermelons, a traditional July Fourth treat, were lower than normal this year as uncooperative weather early in the growing season pushed harvest dates back.
A late spring freeze caused many of Mississippi's watermelon producers to harvest closer than normal to the Fourth of July with some fields missing the holiday demand altogether.
For the best prices, growers aim for harvest to begin around the middle of June and climaxing before July 4.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Agricultural industries dependent on corn are more than ready for harvest to begin. Unfortunately, they have a long wait ahead of them and yields still are uncertain.
Corn prices are having a dramatic impact on the poultry, catfish, beef, dairy and swine industries.
Mike McAlpin, president of the Mississippi Poultry Association, said corn prices have doubled since January. He said feed is the primary poultry cost, regardless of the price.