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Hope reigns as farmers begin 2018 plantings
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Rains may delay field work, but they don’t dampen farmers’ optimism for 2018.
Along with plantings that have already taken place, another sign of the new season is the release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Prospective Plantings report. Released at the end of March every year, this report estimates planting acres for state and national crops.
Brian Williams, an agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said most of the crop markets are steady at year-ago levels.
“We are still looking at large supplies for most of our major crops, and demand has also been quite strong,” he said. “The one exception is cotton. Cotton markets are much better than a year ago.”
The national cotton acreage is forecast to increase 858,000 acres to almost 13.5 million acres, but USDA projected a 50,000 acre decrease for Mississippi for a total 580,000 acres. Only three states are seeing lower acreage this year: Mississippi, Louisiana and Virginia.
“Cotton markets are faring quite well this year, so a decrease in the state’s cotton acreage surprises me,” Williams said. “December cotton futures are trading close to 77 cents a pound while it was in the low 70s a year ago.”
MSU Extension cotton specialist Darrin Dodds said he expects 2018 to have the highest acreage since 2006.
“It would not surprise me to see 650,000-700,000 acres. We might have seen that amount last year, but May 2017 was a challenging month for planting,” he said. “By the time conditions became more favorable, we were so deep into spring that growers weren’t comfortable putting that seed in the ground.”
Because cotton prices have been respectable, Dodds said other commodities should not be eating into cotton acres until their prices improve.
“If the weather is right, some producers will start planting in the third week of April,” Dodds said. “More rain would push planting into the first week of May, which is when most cotton planting has occurred in the last five years.”
USDA estimated a 10,000-acre increase in Mississippi’s soybean acreage to bring the state to 2.2 million acres. The national crop may be down 1.16 million acres for a total of almost 89 million acres.
Extension soybean specialist Trent Irby said he did not expect a major change in planted acreage compared to last year for the state’s largest crop. Commodity prices will usually dictate any major shifts in soybean planting decisions. Planting began one to two weeks ahead of normal, and most soybeans will go into the ground in April and May, depending on weather conditions.
“Soybean growers had a record-breaking state average yield of 53 bushels per acre last year, thanks to weather conditions that allowed for early planting and favorable rainfall through much of the growing season as well as overall good crop management,” Irby said.
Williams said Greenville soybeans are trading at $10.04 per bushel, compared to $9.36 a year ago at this time.
“The main driver behind this is continued strong export demand for soybeans,” he said. “We should see a few more acres of soybeans this year for a couple of reasons. First, soybeans have seen more strength in the markets due to the strong demand, but also soybeans are a lower-cost crop to produce. The low cost of production makes soybeans look more favorable when margins are tight to begin with.”
USDA predicts a national decline of 2.1 million acres of corn to 88 million acres. Mississippi acreage may be down 30,000 acres for a total of 490,000 acres.
Erick Larson, grain crops specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said considerable corn planting started the third week of March, especially in the Delta, or other regions that didn’t get much rain the week prior.
“Farmers know early planting is key to high yields, but often struggle to make progress when spring rains keep fields too wet to plant,” Larson said. “We had a favorable planting season in 2017, along with low nighttime temperatures and plenty of rain during the reproductive stages in June and July. All of those factors contributed to record corn yields last year.”
Williams said Greenville cash corn is trading for $3.81 per bushel compared to $3.83 at this time a year ago, so prices are hovering at about the same level.
“On the other hand, rice prices are higher when compared to a year ago,” Williams said. “Prices are trading just under $12.50 per hundredweight compared to closer to $9.50 a year ago at this time. As a result, I expect to see more rice planted this year compared to 2017.”
USDA is forecasting 120,000 acres of rice in Mississippi, up 5,000 acres.
Bobby Golden, rice specialist at the MSU Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said the 2017 rice yields were around 164 bushels per acre, just under the state record and one of the best years in the last few seasons.
“Most enthusiasm for rice is likely coming from our success last year,” Golden said. “Planting started about five days ahead of normal. Heavy rains could cause some significant planting delays.”
Williams described predicting peanut acreage as “tricky,” but he said the addition of a new cottonseed policy may be to blame for fewer acres available for peanuts.
USDA is forecasting 30,000 acres of peanuts in the state, down 14,000 acres or 32 percent. The national decline is 18 percent from 2017.
Grain sorghum, which is the last crop to be planted in the spring, will not see an increase this year. Low prices and production challenges have discouraged growers from planting grain sorghum in recent years. USDA estimates Mississippi farmers will plant 5,000 acres.
Sweet potato acreage is level with 2017 at 30,000 acres. Nationally, acreage is down 2 percent.