HOUSTON – There are 112 days until Christmas but it looks like a good holiday season is in store for area farmers with local crops doing well and prices holding steady for ag commodities.
But it is farming and there will be several sunrises and sunsets before harvest is complete and the check is in the bank.
Dr. Bill Burdine, Chickasaw County Extension Agent, said yields for corn, cotton, soybeans, sweet potatoes and even hay look good at this point this summer and barring bad weather, bugs and disease hitting local fields, it should be a productive year for agriculture across the county.
“We had several crops that started late because of a cool, wet spring,” said Burdine. “Corn is a determinate plant and there is a pretty strict window when you have to get the right rain and temperatures and some farmers missed that this year. Some farmers also got a late start on sweet potatoes and we’ll see if they catch up.”
Burdine said most corn has matured, is starting to dry down and prices are good. He said many farmers converted to soybeans or cotton when they saw they might have trouble with corn this year.
“Beans look excellent across Chickasaw County and most of the country,” said Burdine. “We’ve gotten steady rain and insects don’t look to be a problem yet.”
Burdine said the test weight for beans – their size and density – look good and he expected yields to be higher per acre this fall.
“Farmers who got sweet potatoes in on time look to be doing pretty well,” said Burdine. “Some areas are having an issue with nematodes and tip rot and end rot are still huge problems locally.”
Burdine said research universities and ag-chemical companies have been working frantically for more than four years to find a cure for end rot and tip rot. Burdine’s education specialty is sweet potatoes.
“I personally feel they are caused by a pathogen, soil moisture levels and a third thing we haven’t quite put our finger on,” said Burdine. “Like many things in farming, it’s a mystery, and it has hurt production.”
Burdine said one bright spot is many farmers decided not to plant potatoes this year fearing an over supply.
“Sweet potato acreage is down about 2,000 acres in Chickasaw County,” said Burdine. “At this point in the season it looks like there will be an under-supply and that should help prices.”
Burdine said cotton has fruited and appears to be doing well.
“We have a few insect issues in areas, but overall insect levels are lower than expected,” said Burdine. “We are seeing some (army) worms, aphids and spider mites beginning to be a problem in spots. We are urging farmers to scout fields and stay on top of their insect problem.”
Burdine said cattle are not his field of expertise, but pastures look great and heat stress has not been an issue this summer.
A new problem for farmers this year is Roundup resistant pigweed that has prompted some farmers to get in the field with hoes. Burdine said the weed is a serious problem and it will affect yields in infested fields.
“We are also warning farmers that asian soybean rust has been reported in this country,” said Burdine. “It is spread by the wind and has destroyed fields in South America and Asia for years.
“If a farmer suspects they have this in their field, they need to contact us,” he added. “The only way you can positively identify it is to take a sample to a lab and get it confirmed.”
Burdine said transportation issues at river ports last year do not appear to be a problem this summer.
“In my opinion what seems to be bothering farmers most is a lack of a farm bill,” said Burdine. “Congress is set to adjourn and farmers need that piece of legislation finalized so they know how to plan.”
A farm bill would establish a “market floor” or the lowest price farmers would get paid for a crop.
In late July the Republican-controlled House tried to cut billions of dollars from the food stamp program before negotiating an overall farm bill with the Senate.
Food stamps traditionally are part of farm bills. They are the largest hurdle to a new farm law, already ten months behind schedule. The new farm bill is expected to expand the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance system and cost $100 billion a year.
Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Republican leader on the Senate Agriculture Committee, is one of 12 conferees trying to hammer out a farm bill for 2013. The Senate passed farm bills in 2012 and this year, but the House failed to act in 2012 and on June 20 defeated, for the first time ever, a farm bill with House conservatives saying they wanted deeper cuts in food stamps than the $20 billion that was proposed.
House Republicans are expected to ask for $40 billion in food stamp cuts when lawmakers resume work in September.
“I personally feel they will probably extend the current bill for a year at current levels,” said Burdine. “But we are talking politics and anything can happen.”