The witches’ brew of weather adversities in 2009 cost Mississippi agriculture an estimated $1 billion in the farmgate value of commodities produced in the state, says David Waide, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and himself a cattle/row crop producer.
“We had $6.2 billion in value in 2008 and it dropped to $5.2 billion last year. That’s quite a blow because that money turns over a lot of times in communities throughout the state. I hope Mississippi farmers don’t have to go through another year like that.
“Cotton money, particularly, turns over a lot of times, and that sector has taken a beating the past several years with declining acreage — last year’s was the smallest in history. Our sweet potato industry was devastated by the rains. Pork production has taken a big hit in recent years with the closing of the Bryan Foods processing plant at West Point — over 1,200 jobs gone.
“A lot of cattle are grazed in Mississippi, making their way through feedlots, a huge economic value for stocker/grazer operations in the state. A lot of that was lost because producers couldn’t get ryegrass planted, and those who did had a struggle maintaining the grass because of the extreme cold we’ve had this winter.”
On his farm at West Point, Miss., Waide grows corn, soybeans, wheat, “a few acres of oats,” and in years past, cotton. “This is the first time in a long time I don’t have any wheat or oats, but with last fall’s weather, I wasn’t able to get any planted. We haven’t been able to do any kind of fieldwork, except combining, since July.
“We left hay in the fields because the ground was too wet to hold up the tractors. I planted beans three times and never got a stand, so I just gave up and let it go to hay — which worked to my benefit in having enough feed for my cows.”
The economic losses for agriculture have had an impact, too, on state budgets, Waide says; “We’re seeing it in all the cutbacks coming out of the legislature and the governor’s office.”
Although he says he hasn’t grown cotton in five years, “I like the crop, I have a good base, and it certainly looks more promising this year. If my term was already up [now serving his seventh term as Farm Bureau president, he has announced his retirement, effective in December], I’d be growing cotton this year, but it’s hard to farm cotton when you’re 150 miles away [in Jackson, Miss.]. So, it’ll be corn and soybeans again. But I’m sure every farmer who’s got a cotton base is giving it some serious thought — 80-cent cotton looks pretty good.”
Although several options are open upon retirement, including public office or appointments, Waide says from now until December “Farm Bureau’s agenda gets my full attention — after that, we’ll see.”