There is a touch of irony, Mike Pannell laughingly admits, that he’s chairman of the Mississippi Corn Promotion Board and president of the Mississippi Corn Growers Association, and yet he and his brother, Mark, have no corn this year on their 2,000 acre farms.

“We got sandbagged by the weather,” he says, a familiar story in much of the Mid-South this spring. “Dryland corn is not a very forgiving enterprise — we’ve basically got a one-shot window for getting things right. If weather knocks us out of that window, we have to go to soybeans.

“We’re all dryland, and we don’t like to plant corn beyond April 25 — the rainfall we need to get the crop up and mature becomes too risky after that date. In two years out of 10, we’ll be prevented from planting corn because of weather that pushes us too late in the season. The last time was 2009.

“This year, it rained every Thursday from the second week in March until the first week in May.  When May rolled around, we had to give up on corn and go all soybeans. I told the board members of the corn organizations they’d probably want to fire me (he smiles), but so far they haven’t.”

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On this late summer morning, with the expected start of soybean harvest still a while away, the brothers are trying to get things shipshape so they can take short vacations — Mike to go motorcycling with friends in Colorado (“When I turned 50, I felt I could finally afford a Harley-Davidson Classic,” he says), and Mark to go bow hunting for elk in Colorado (his bike is a Harley Road King).

 They’ve been phoning around to try and locate a couple of needed oil filters for farm equipment, and Mark’s getting ready to drive up into Tennessee to get them (“A heckuva note,” he says, “that I’ve got to make a 90-mile one-way trip to pick up a couple of filters”).

Here in the northern part of Union County, cotton was long ago edged out by grains, and much of the land once in farms has gone into trees or the CRP. And in the Pannells’ case, land they once farmed surrounding their shop in the Glenfield community on the outskirts of New Albany, is now an industrial park and residential subdivisions.

“Some of it, we’d farmed for 20 years,” Mark says. “It was all rented land, and we had no opportunity to buy it before it went to development. Over the years, we’ve probably lost 200 acres to development. “

Now Mike says, “There’s little opportunity for any further expansion of our farming operation — there’s just not that much farmland left in this area.”