December 15, 2012 7:11:09 PM
JACKSON -- Mississippi farmers grew more soybeans and corn per acre in 2012 than ever before.
U.S. Agriculture Department statistics show soybean yields rose to 42 bushels per acre, while corn yields rose to 156 bushels per acre.
Mississippi saw healthy crops at the same time that many Midwestern farmers were struggling with drought. That means large crops were sold for high prices. Agricultural economist John Michael Riley of Mississippi State University forecasts that's likely to boost the state's farm revenue this year to $7.5 billion once federal farm supports are included. That's 9 percent higher than last year's $6.9 billion.
On the strength of the bumper crop, soybeans are forecast to become the state's second most valuable crop bringing in $1.16 billion in revenue. That would push forest products, with $1.03 billion in trees cut down, into third.
Poultry and eggs remain Mississippi's most valuable agricultural product, with farmers producing $2.53 billion worth. Broiler prices rose during the year, but growers in the nation's No. 5 poultry state continue to struggle with high prices for the soybeans and corn that go into chicken feed.
Corn production has expanded in Mississippi in the last five or six years, as more corn gets turned into ethanol, driving up prices. Riley said he believed Mississippi farmers are getting better at growing corn, which expanded to 780,000 acres in the state.
"Producers are learning how to grow the crop more productively," he said.
Mississippi growers harvested 1.22 million bushels, more corn than any year except 2007, when they planted 930,000 acres of the grain.
Britton Hatcher, who oversees corn production for the Mississippi Farm Bureau, said farmers were able to plant early because of a warm, dry spring and benefited from relatively cool weather as corn was pollinating. That allowed corn to be harvested two to three weeks early.
"It was all weather," he said.
Peanut production also ballooned in the state, with acreage more than tripling to 48,000. Riley said he thinks peanut acres will fall back next spring as prices fall, but not dip back to the 14,000 acres that were planted in 2011.
Growth in peanut, corn and soybean production came at the expense of reduced cotton acreage. Fewer than 500,000 acres of cotton were harvested, and that could dip lower next year if prices don't rise. Hatcher said there's talk that growers could plant a million acres of corn in Mississippi next spring.
"Mississippi has moved toward a predominantly corn and soybean growing area and less so cotton," Riley said. He said he expects corn will remain attractive despite the shuttering of the Bunge-Ergon ethanol plant in Vicksburg.