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MSU Plays Role In State's Record Crops
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Weather and Mississippi State University played major roles in the record yields state farmers have produced in recent years among Mississippi's top row crops.
In 1997, cotton farmers saw their highest production with 896 pounds harvested per acre. Soybeans matched 1996's second highest production with 31 bushels an acre, while corn set a new record at 107 bushels per acre. Rice and wheat also set yield records in the past two years.
"Weather was a significant factor, but the development and application of improved technology is also important," said Dr. Rodney Foil, vice president of the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine. "The Extension Service's work in advancing technology and research by MSU's Ag Division has helped our producers establish these new yield records."
Dr. David Shaw, weed science researcher with the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Stations, said the university has impacted soybeans the most in defining production practices that maximize yield and profit. Earlier planting and maturing varieties have led to tremendous yield benefits.
"Our research is showing that soybeans are a very viable, profitable crop," Shaw said. "In the past, soybeans were planted on land that wouldn't grow anything else, but now the attitude has changed and farmers are putting more effort and management into soybean production."
Shaw said MSU has worked heavily with weed control and has been instrumental in developing transgenic soybean varieties that work well in Mississippi.
"We have also had a fairly significant role in developing programs of weed control for some of the most troublesome weeds we have," Shaw said. "Before, about the only thing we could do with weed problems was apply a very intensive chemical program that had a high risk of damaging the soybean. Now we have a lot of products that control weeds without damaging the soybean, and farmers can focus on economical decisions."
The computer program MSU-HERB helps with these decisions. Available through county extension offices, this program calculates expected yield losses to weeds, yield increases from herbicide application, and based on data inputs, ranks the 20 best herbicides for a given situation.
Dr. Will McCarty, extension cotton specialist, said weather is the biggest factor influencing all crops, but MSU has also been a significant player. MSU's contribution to cotton has come in the areas of breeding, fertility, crop rotation, insect control, deep tillage and more.
"Our biggest contribution to cotton yields was the introduction of early maturing, high yield varieties," McCarty said. "Dr. Bob Bridge, formerly at the Delta Branch Experiment Station, released the first of these to market, and it now serves as the parent for the majority of the varieties planted across the Cotton Belt today."
MSU research has led to optimizing nitrogen and increasing potassium application rates to better serve the cotton, McCarty said. University-led education on liming has caused a significant increase in the amount applied to cotton fields in the state.
MSU research found cotton yielded more when rotated with corn. With growers practicing this rotation, state cotton yields have increased. University research and demonstrations have proven the effectiveness of Bt transgenic cotton in controlling tobacco budworms. Today, about 40 percent of the state's cotton is Bt cotton.
"Given favorable weather, the production practices farmers are using today can potentially increase production yields even more," McCarty said. "We're moving to a more balanced cropping, and with the increase of corn and soybean acreage, cotton is moving back on the very best land. Removing low-yield cotton acreage increases the yield per acre on a statewide basis."
Dr. Dennis Reginelli, area extension agent in Noxubee County, said corn acreage in the state has exploded in the last few years. MSU has helped educate and prepare farmers to produce the best possible yields from their corn fields.
"Interest in corn grew because of insect pressure on cotton and the good price corn was bringing," Reginelli said. "Corn is an easier crop to grow, and when its price went up and cotton's price fell, many farmers turned to corn."
Production meetings, short courses and field demonstrations are one way the university's division of agriculture helps farmers increase yields. Speakers present the latest information to growers, as well as information on what farming practices work best.
Reginelli said last year, Noxubee County had a problem early in the season with corn rust. Extension immediately acted and set up demonstration fields where they tested different fungicides available to see which one was the most effective.
Demonstration fields grow new varieties and new farming methods are practiced each year for all of the state's major row crops. MSU employees conduct tours and workshops so farmers can learn about new varieties, planting times and methods, weed control and more as they make decisions for their own fields.
"As we approach the next century, we need to continue to intensify our efforts so that Mississippi producers are able to achieve both individual and collective goals," Foil said.