MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Farmers know what it's like to roll the dice and hope for good weather, low costs and high profits, but the stakes this year for corn producers are higher than usual.
“Farmers can't afford to have a train wreck with their crop, despite high crop market prices,” said Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “They are putting so much more into their crop than in years past. One significant hiccup in production could mean the end of their agricultural careers.”
If Mississippi corn farmers manage to harvest a good crop, they will cash in on record-high prices, said John Anderson, Extension agricultural economist.
“In the corn market, everybody's interest has been focused on the Midwest for the last couple of months,” Anderson said. “Their wet, cool spring delayed planting, and now that corn has finally emerged, thousands of acres are flooding or in danger of flooding.”
It is too late to replant many of these Corn Belt acres, and the acres that have been replanted likely will have a greatly diminished yield.
“It's a very serious situation, and the market has definitely taken note,” Anderson said. “It doesn't look like nationwide corn production is going to match what the market was looking for when we got started this year.”
In response, corn prices shot to record highs and continued to climb. Anderson said corn futures contracts starting in December are more than $7 a bushel. Cash prices that growers get are always lower than futures contracts, but even these are in record territory at $6-$6.25 a bushel.
“Those are fantastic prices. Our corn prices are the highest they've ever been, and that gives us the best chance of profitability,” Anderson said. “The challenge from a producer's point of view is to get a crop in.”
Larson said Mississippi producers were having varying success with their crop by mid-June. The state was expected to plant 670,000 acres of corn but likely only got in about 600,000 acres.
“We had a wide range in planting dates because of wet conditions, and many acres had to be replanted up through mid-May,” Larson said. “Our corn is in all stages across the state, with some past tassel and some that is still relatively young.”
Mississippi summers stress corn. Late-planted corn is subject to more stress during key growth stages and is more likely to experience insect and disease problems, which tend to reduce productivity considerably.
Larson said once the corn was planted, the rain reduced the need for irrigation early in the season. With diesel fuel at all-time high prices, that is a savings for farmers, but fertilizer prices are record high as well.
“They had to bite the bullet and put out fertilizer and hope they made a good crop,” he said.
Don Cook, Extension entomologist at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona, said sugarcane beetles made an unwanted, rare appearance in Mississippi and caused some serious problems, especially in the northeast part of the state.
The sugarcane beetle is black and about a half-inch long. Adults fly into a corn field and burrow underground, where they feed on the corn plant. Cook said the beetles are sporadic in the fields they infest, and the last time the area had this problem was about 10 years ago.
“There is no control for the pest other than an in-furrow or seed treatment, but with most seed treatments, the beetles have to eat several plants before it kills them,” Cook said.
The beetle is mostly a threat to young corn, rarely causing significant problems in corn that is knee high or taller. However, the beetles can cause a lot of problems in sweet potatoes in August.