Farmers seeing grander yields in early harvests

Published 12:05 pm Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Yazoo County farmer Clay Adcock rises at about 5:30 in the morning this time of year, works until midnight and compares his job to “one long car trip.”

But the tiring monotony is a pleasure, Adcock said, especially compared to the weather-related turmoil that engulfed much of Mississippi agriculture a year ago. “Last year was my worst year since I started farming” in 1986, Adcock said as he steered a John Deere combine through rows of corn in a field near Holly Bluff. “I love it when we’re going like this.”

The feeling seems to be shared among farmers throughout the area, who are in the midst of harvesting corn, soybeans and rice a year after bringing in yields that were viewed as dismal.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Firm local estimates of this year’s harvest won’t be available for a few more weeks, according to Marcus Davis, interim director of Warren County’s extension service. And the weather, which wreaked havoc on growers last September and October, could take a turn for the wetter.

But reasons for optimism have been identified by farmers, and data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service suggests that the state’s harvest is ahead of where it was this time last year.

That’s partly because the record-high temperatures that boiled the area throughout July have also brought crops to maturity ahead of schedule, said Erick Larson, a grain crop specialist with Mississippi State University.

NASS records show that 48 percent of the state’s corn crop has been brought in so far this year, whereas only 14 percent had been harvested at the same point last year. The rice and soybean harvests also are ahead of where they were at this point in 2009, the records say.

The weather also has allowed farmers to spend more time with their crops this year, according to NASS records. Though rain slowed farmers down last week, statistics kept by NASS say there were 22.4 days “suitable for fieldwork” in Mississippi from July 26 to Aug. 22, compared with 14.3 days over a similar period in 2009.

“Last July and August were terrible,” remembered Yazoo County farmer Will Phillips.

So were the preceding and following months, Adcock said. “We had spring floods, then drought, then terrible rains for about a month and a half,” he said. “It was just a bad year.”

Mississippi State University’s cooperative extension service called the rainfall “disastrous” for farmers, saying that it helped lead to a 19 percent decline in the value of the state’s farm production in 2009.

Farmers surveyed this week were cautiously optimistic about their crops.

Adcock, who farms 3,100 acres of corn, rice, cotton and sweet potatoes in Yazoo and Sharkey counties, estimated that his corn yield is up 30 percent per acre from last year.

Increases also were reported by Rodney Edwards, who farms rice and soybeans on 3,100 acres spread across Humphreys, Issaquena and Washington counties.

“It’s 10-to-1 better than last year, for sure,” Edwards said.

Edwards said he’s also happy with the quality of his crops, particularly his soybeans. Last year, he said, his soybean crop deteriorated due to a combination of drought during growing season and heavy rains at harvest time. “The things that I’m harvesting this year actually look like soybeans,” he said.

Darrin Dodds, an MSU cotton specialist, said the crop looks “above average” this year “but nowhere near where it was last year. We probably had a state record cotton crop in the field last year, then the weather came in in September and October and destroyed it all.”

Warren County growers concentrate on corn, soybean and wheat, Davis said, but cotton planting has jumped significantly from last year. In 2009, one planter sowed 150 acres of cotton. This year, Davis said, about 1,225 acres of white gold have been planted in Warren County.