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Washington adds to planting challenges
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Growers normally make planting decisions well before planting time based on their crop rotation plans and the markets, but this year's Farm Bill debate and the weather are throwing a monkey wrench into growers' plans.
Jim Quinn, marketing specialist with Farm Bureau and Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said without a finalized Farm Bill, bankers are withholding loans until they know how much governmental support to expect.
"Farmers are sitting on the sidelines waiting. We're looking at late April at best for approval and then for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement afterwards," Quinn said. "The latest the loan rates have ever been set was April 26, 1996, when the last Farm Bill went into effect, and in 1996, we weren't in the economic situation we are in today. Commodity prices were very high, and the government was going to be less involved in agriculture. Supplemental assistance was not as important then as it is now."
John Anderson, Extension agricultural economist, said farmers could receive emergency supplemental support on top of the existing Farm Bill if decision-makers reach an impasse, and this possibility has been discussed in the Senate. Supplemental support typically goes to commodity programs, disaster relief and other needs.
"Farmers and lenders have been expecting and waiting for a new Farm Bill before this crop season," Anderson said. "Now, we have a House version and a Senate version that are quite different from one another. We don't know which one will dominate as a final version, or if we'll continue to operate under the existing Farm Bill for another year."
Anderson said growers are evaluating their situations and trying to do what will expose them to the least risk of the three options.
"It would be easier for farmers if the Senate and House proposals were similar, but they're not. Farmers need to know what will be in the Farm Bill to make decisions in a timely manner," Anderson said. "But the time to sit down with the banker and decide what and where you're going to plant passed a few weeks ago. Now is the time to be in the fields with the tractors."
Will McCarty, Extension cotton specialist, said planting will depend on financing, the weather and the calendar.
"If farmers can't plant all the corn and Group IV soybeans they are planning on, then that acreage will shift to cotton," McCarty said. "Cotton prices are the same or worse than last year because of large supplies, but there is still a good bit of confidence in the cotton-growing areas."
Last year, Mississippi growers harvested 1.6 million acres of cotton averaging 708 pounds per acre. The large acreage contributed to the second largest crop on record -- 2.36 million bales.
Erick Larson, Extension grains specialist, said corn has been the wild card in growers' hands in recent years. In 2001, they planted 400,000 acres and harvested a record 130 bushels per acre, which exceeded the previous record by 11 percent. Acreage is expected to increase this year.
"The enthusiasm over last year's record corn crop will carry over into this year. However, planting is behind schedule because of March rains, but ample time still remains to plant corn in most areas if Mother Nature permits," Larson said.
"The optimum corn planting dates have past for the coastal counties, central counties' goal is by April 10, lower-northern counties strive to seed by April 20 and extreme norther counties by April 25," he said. "Corn producers have had to proceed because planting season is upon them, despite the uncertainty of the next Farm Bill."