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Early planting gave soybeans strong start
By Laura Whelan
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's soybean crop is off to a strong start, with 73 percent of the crop planted by mid-May compared to the five-year average of 58 percent.
"Soybean planting is far ahead of schedule, which is wonderful news," said Alan Blaine, soybean specialist with Mississippi State University Extension Service. "Early planting of soybeans has become the norm in Mississippi. In fact, we're leading the nation in early planting percentage."
The last two weeks offered some weather challenges for farmers. The northern half of the state was inundated with 8 to 13 inches of rainfall, and Blaine estimated that farmers in this area may need to replant about 5 percent of their crop.
In contrast, in the southern half of the state, south of Highway 82, some very dry areas desperately need rain.
Blaine said weather conditions in other areas of the country also could impact Mississippi farmers. Heavy rainfall in the Midwest and Ohio River Valley area will eventually flow down the Mississippi River and could affect crops in the Delta.
"As the river rises, the Steele Bayou gates will be closed, and the water that backs up through the South Delta will cause flooding," Blaine said.
Although weather conditions have been poor in certain areas, the overall planting looks very positive and has allowed soybean farmers to get the favorable initial stand they needed.
"The soybean crop got off to such a good start that farmers have reason to be optimistic," Blaine said.
In March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that Mississippi would plant a total of 1.5 million acres of soybeans in 2003. Blaine said he expects actual acres to far exceed that number. One reason for this increase is farmers planting soybeans following receding floodwaters.
"The flood conditions in much of Mississippi will take out other crops, and we anticipate that many of those farmers will choose to replant with soybeans," he said. "Soybeans are the only alternative in a late-planting scenario."
In terms of variety, Blaine said this year's crop will include a higher number of Roundup Ready beans than ever before, at about 80 percent.
Blaine encouraged farmers to remember that it is still early in the season, so continuing to make prudent and timely crop decisions can greatly improve yields. He suggested scouting fields closely to catch problems before they arise and treating each field individually so that specific problems can be addressed.
Extension agent Guy Wilson said farmers in Washington county, who produced more 123,000 acres of soybeans last year, are pleased with planting so far in 2003.
"Farmers are encouraged because the beans were in the ground early and soybean prices are up to $6.05 to $6.12 per bushel right now," Wilson said. "The higher prices are a good sign, and farmers are just hoping that the market will stay up."
Agricultural economist John Anderson said September futures prices from the Chicago Board of Trade are $6.08 per bushel and November prices are $5.68 per bushel.
"Harvest-time futures prices are definitely better this year than last year, up from $4.70 to $4.75 per bushel in 2002. Farmers are looking at more favorable futures for the fall harvest in 2003," Anderson said.
Although predicting profitability is difficult due to the variety of producers and production methods, Anderson said the current futures prices for the fall harvest will likely exceed production cost for most Mississippi soybean growers.