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Growers Debate Planting Choices
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Farmers across Mississippi are moving some of their acres to cotton or soybeans based on poor prices and a bad year for corn in 1998.
Dr. Erick Larson, corn specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said last year's problems with aflatoxin have been the most significant factor keeping corn acreage low this year.
"Many growers are uncomfortable dealing with the risk of aflatoxin because it develops based primarily on environmental conditions over which the grower has little control," Larson said.
Aflatoxin, which results from a fungal disease, was worse last year than it has been since 1977, Larson said. Aflatoxin is possible in the South each year under certain environmental conditions because the fungus is abundant in the soil.
"Producers who haven't grown corn for many years are less comfortable with the risk of aflatoxin occurring again this year," Larson said.
The most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture planting intentions report showed farmers planting 320,000 acres of corn, down from 550,000 in 1998. A wet planting season and poor prices also helped drive acreage down.
The Extension Service suggested an April 10 planting cutoff date for the area near Yazoo and Sharkey counties. The north central cutoff date for the area around Noxubee, Monroe, Bolivar and Washington counties is April 20, while farther north has until April 25 to get the corn crop in.
"The wet spring conditions thus far have limited planting days, delaying planting for many growers," Larson said.
Dr. Tom Jones, Extension agricultural economist, said corn that is planted late has a better chance of facing drought stress when the grains are filling. This leads to reduced corn yields.
"Soybeans have a better tolerance for being planted later and with the government programs available, soybeans look to many farmers like a better crop than corn," Jones said.
Dr. O.A. Cleveland, Extension marketing specialist, said cotton is also claiming some of the land originally intended for corn.
"Irrigated land will tend to move to cotton and dryland acreage will tend to move to a combination of beans and cotton," Cleveland said.
The dryland shift to beans will likely be caused by the limited availability of bank credit, Cleveland said. Cotton is a high risk crop, and being planted on dryland increases that risk. However, if the crop is successful, the payoff is greater for cotton than for soybeans.
"Mississippi is a cotton state and that is our competitive advantage. Farmers, being optimists, look for a home run and plant cotton because if the crop makes, it will pay bills when grains and soybeans do not," Cleveland said.