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Producers forecast to grow more cotton, less corn
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Strong export demand for cotton and soybean is causing Mississippi producers to shift away from corn and rice as they finalize their planting plans for 2017.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Prospective Plantings report released March 31 estimates the state's growers will plant a total of about 4.194 million acres, a 170,000-acre increase over 2016 acreage.
Brian Williams, an agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said current cash prices for cotton are around 73 cents per pound compared with 57 cents at this time last year.
“With such strong cotton prices, we are expecting to see a significant jump in cotton acres again this year, both here in Mississippi and nationally,” Williams said. “We are expecting to see fewer corn acres, both here in Mississippi as well as nationally this year, primarily because of higher prices in competing crops, such as cotton and soybeans.”
Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds said Mississippi as a whole has averaged more than 1,000 pounds of cotton per acre for the last five years. Cotton planting begins the second week of April at the earliest, he said, and cool or wet weather could push it to early May.
“The last five years have been good for most of our cotton growers,” Dodds said. “When you combine a consistent track record with respectable prices, a rise in acreage makes sense.”
The USDA forecasts 550,000 cotton acres in Mississippi, up 26 percent from the 435,000 acres planted last year. U.S. cotton crop is predicted to exceed 12 million acres.
Corn prices are steady to slightly lower than a year ago at this time. Greenville cash corn is currently selling for $3.62 a bushel compared to $3.66 a year ago. The USDA predicts Mississippi’s 2017 corn acreage at 530,000, down 29 percent from last year’s 750,000 acres. U.S. corn acreage is down 4 percent from last year.
Extension grain crop specialist Erick Larson said corn planting is ahead of schedule throughout the Mississippi Delta, while growers in the eastern part of the state are mostly holding off for drier weather and soil.
“Nearly all of the corn planting in the Delta took place in the fourth week of March,” he said. “Overall, most of the increase in cotton acreage will come out of corn, but I have gotten reports from the Delta that growers planted more corn than usual because of warmer weather.”
Soybean prices are higher than they were a year ago. Greenville cash soybeans are currently selling for $9.62 a bushel compared to $9.03 in late March last year. The USDA expects 2.25 million soybean acres in Mississippi, up 10 percent from 2.04 million acres last year. Nationally, growers intend to plant a record 89.5 million acres in 2017, a 7 percent increase.
“Prices have held relatively strong this year despite a record soybean crop last fall,” Williams said. “The higher prices when compared to a year ago will likely mean we will see more soybeans planted in the state, as well as nationally.”
Trent Irby, Extension soybean specialist, said weather is also helping keep soybean planting ahead of schedule.
“Producers have started planting this year’s crop in a few areas. Weather depending, we usually see some acres planted this time of year, with our planting progress really picking up pace in April and early May,” Irby said. “We are still a few days out from the optimum planting window, which is the middle of April. If the weather cooperates over the next few weeks, we will likely see the soybean-planting progress remain ahead of schedule.”
Bobby Golden, Extension rice and soil fertility agronomist, said there could be 40 to 50 percent less rice acreage this year. The USDA reported 195,000 acres of rice in 2016 and forecasts 120,000 this year -- a 38 percent decrease. Nationally, total rice acreage is projected to be 2.63 million acres, which is down 17 percent from last year.
“There is not a good market outlook right now for rice. The price of rice compared to soybean is driving a lot of this decrease,” Golden said. “Right now, with favorable weather in the Delta, we have about 5 to 7 percent planted. Our rice strongholds are in Bolivar, Tunica, Sunflower and Quitman counties. Producers there will continue to grow rice, but overall acreage could possibly move down to the 100,000- to 115,000-acre range.”
Williams said he does not see major changes in sorghum or hay production. The USDA predicts Mississippi growers will plant 10,000 acres of sorghum and grow 630,000 acres of hay. Last year, they harvested 13,000 acres of sorghum and 640,000 acres of hay.
“Mississippi cash sorghum is currently trading for $2.96 a bushel compared to $3.02 a year ago at this time, so prices are slightly lower. However, the bigger driver of sorghum acreage has been and will likely continue to be the sugarcane aphid, which has driven down acreage substantially the last couple of years,” he said. “Hay tends to fluctuate much less than our other crops.”
Williams said he expects additional peanut acreage this year, as growers look for alternative crops that may be more profitable. Last year, Mississippi producers planted 39,000 acres of peanuts. The USDA expects them to plant 44,000 acres this year. U.S. production is forecast to be up 5 percent.
Sweet potato acreage is expected to be 28,000 acres in Mississippi this year. That amount is down slightly compared with 30,000 acres in 2016.