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2005 rice endures economic battles
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Weather conditions may prevent Mississippi's rice farmers from posting a third consecutive year of record yields, but their biggest battle may be economics.
"We've grown accustomed to good yields, even record averages in the last two years, but this has been a tough year," said Nathan Buehring, rice specialist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville. "The economics of producing this crop has been the toughest part. Diesel costs are high, market prices are low, and fertilizer costs are high. It has been a dry year, so we have had to pump more water than normal. All those factors are driving the cost of production way up."
Buehring said growers have had to battle weeds and red rice throughout the growing season.
"It's remarkable what a difference a year makes. The last couple of summers were relatively mild, but the extreme heat we had this July may cause some blanking of kernels and hurt yields," Buehring said. "It's not all gloom and doom; some growers will have as good of a crop as last year. Mississippi has some of the best rice producers in the country."
Buehring said if market prices and production costs stay the same as now, Mississippi rice farmers probably will not plant as many acres next year. They planted 245,000 acres this year, 10,000 more than in 2004. Last year's record yields were 6,900 pounds per acre, 100 pounds more than the previous year's record.
Tommy Baird, Extension agent in Sunflower County, said yields may be a little below last year, but he still expects a good crop.
"We've been planting rice knowing that prices were not going to be as good as in past years, so growers have been trying to hold inputs down as much as possible while still producing a good crop," Baird said. "Farmers are trying to be frugal with fertilizer applications. Some varieties do not need as much fertilizer as others. Red rice has been a challenge in some fields and may make growers consider different varieties next year."
Steve Martin, Extension agricultural economist, said the current cash price for rice is $6.05 per hundredweight which is 50 cents per hundredweight under loan. Last year's market price averaged $7.30 per hundredweight. In spite of strong demand and export markets, last year's record crop nationally are keeping market prices slightly lower.
"We are on track to produce another good crop nationally, so we are looking at depressed prices through this fall," Martin said. "After we get harvest pressure off the market and if we have some export doors open, such as to Iraq, the market should improve, but still remain lower than a couple years ago."
The cost of production will drive profitability down this year even more than the prices might indicate.
"Cost of production is probably up 15 to 20 percent, but when people start paying more for their out-of-pocket expenses, they feel like it's even worse," he said.