Future of 2009 growing season looking bright|Hike in soybeans, decline in corn expected as fertilizer costs rise, farmers rotate crops

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 3, 2009

Plagued by widespread flooding, tornadoes and severe storms last spring, area farmers are off to a much more promising start to the summer crop season as planting begins to wrap up in Warren County, said Extension Service Director John Coccaro.

“Some of the fields where the corn is already 8 inches tall — they literally had 8 feet of water over them last year at this time,” said Coccaro, adding cautiously, “it’s a good start, but that doesn’t guarantee a good finish.”

Heavy rains and cooler than average temperatures in early April saturated fields and delayed some planting, but Coccaro said most farmers were able to get their corn in by the middle of the month. Planting of soybeans — which edges corn as the No. 1 crop in the county — will be ongoing through May, said Coccaro. However, farmers such as Doug Jeter planned to have all of his beans in the ground by today.

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“Everything has been going really good, and we’re just hoping it stays that way,” said Jeter, whose 430 acres off Long Lake Road were flooded last spring. “We had to replant a little corn because of some hard rains, which rotted the seeds — and I know some farmers who had to start all over — but right now things are going good.”

Jeter said he’s been keeping a close eye on the Mississippi River, which has been holding about 5 to 6 feet below flood stage of 43 feet. His land, as well as nearby fields off Chickasaw Road that he farms with Tom and Edward McKnight, are among the first in the county that go under water during flooding.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.

The Mississippi River at Vicksburg rose above flood stage on March 29, 2008, crested at 50.9 feet on April 19 and did not fall below flood stage until May 10.

Jeter and the McKnights are among many farmers in the county and state who are replacing corn with soybeans this season, primarily due to the high cost of fertilizer. Of their combined 3,200 acres, only about 500 acres were planted with corn. Corn fields require about $100 in fertilizer per acre, Jeter said, compared to soybeans, which don’t require any starter fertilizers. However, he also noted soybean seeds have risen in price by about 40 percent.

“We cut our acres of corn almost in half compared to last year,” Jeter said, adding the flood ruined the entire corn and winter wheat crops last year.

While total acreage counts in Warren County are not yet available, Coccaro said many farmers are replacing corn with soybeans.

“Soybean production will probably increase in Warren County this year, and corn will probably be off a little bit,” he said.

The March planting intentions report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted 630,000 acres of corn will be planted in the state this year, compared to 720,000 acres last year. According to the most recent USDA data available, Warren County farmers have rotated between corn and soybeans drastically in the past few years. A total of 16,800 acres of corn were harvested in 2007, compared to 8,500 acres of soybeans — a significant shift from 2006, when 12,400 acres of soybeans were harvested and 6,300 acres of corn were taken to the mill.

“Corn and soybeans work extremely well as rotation crops, and a lot of farmers are into rotating their crops pretty regularly,” said Coccaro. “Corn prices are still good, but they have scaled back compared to a couple of years ago and corn is definitely more expensive to grow.”


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com