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Corn Faces Uncertain Price, Acreage Future
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Corn is growing this year on fewer Mississippi acres than last year, but the crop appears to be off to a good start despite being planted slightly behind schedule.
Dr. Tom Jones, Mississippi State University extension agricultural economist, said state farmers planted 630,000 acres of corn in 1996 and expect to plant about 550,000 acres this year. Most corn planting should be complete by April 20.
Dr. Erick Larson, MSU extension corn specialist, said wet ground delayed most planting until late March, but recent good weather has allowed the corn to exceed long-term planting progress averages.
"The corn is rapidly emerging in good condition," Larson said.
Dr. Dennis Reginelli, Noxubee County extension agricultural agent, said planting prospects looked grim in March.
"We were real scared in March because it kept raining and raining, and the weather was a little cool," Reginelli said.
Reginelli said farmers in East Mississippi traditionally plan to start planting corn March 15, but rains usually postpone this until March 20 to 21. This year, however, heavy rains prevented most Noxubee County corn planting until March 29.
"But then we missed a rain that was supposed to come and had about 10 days of good planting conditions," Reginelli said. "The ground was warm, the weather turned pretty, and we planted the last three days of March and the first week of April."
Larson said frost damaged some corn in the northern part of the state before mid-April, but it should rebound.
"Corn just emerging usually recovers from frost damage because the growing tip is underground," he said. "New leaves should regrow within a week of the frost damage."
Jones said market forces and wet farmland lowered state corn acreage. Soybean prices have been strong, and as the ground stays wet too long, some farmers are switching to this crop.
"Nationally, there's a lot of flooded ground, and it is yet to be seen if it will be planted in corn," Jones said. "If the ground stays too wet to plant, corn prices will rise as delays lower yield prospects. Farmers will switch to soybeans, and if enough switch, it will hurt soybean prices and help corn prices."
Jones said last year corn hit all-time highs of more than $5 a bushel with corn planted on 79 million acres nationwide. This year, about 9.6 billion bushels of corn are expected from 81 million acres, but prices should not approach 1996 highs.
"I don't think anybody expects to see corn prices this year like they did last year," Jones said.
Near futures are about $3 a bushel now, with December futures at $2.90. But with corn planting conditions still unfavorable in places, prices could rise, Jones said.
Jones recommended farmers forward price about 50 percent of their anticipated 1997 corn production at expected average prices, and wait for possibly better prices for the remainder.
"I think there's a chance for better corn prices later this spring," Jones said. "USDA anticipates corn being between $2.70 and $2.90 average. But since that's an average, some will sell for lower, but some will sell for higher.
"I think farmers need to forward price some in on what they expect the average to be and try to shoot for a little better price on some of the rest."