Farmers attending the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show Exhibit in Memphis were happy to get out of the house, look up some friends and perhaps, let a little of the show's excitement rub off on them. For the most part, it seemed to be working.

When asked about the coming season, farmer Steve Metheny who raises about 700 acres of cotton, 1,200 acres of soybeans and 360 acres of wheat in Osceola, Ark., noted, “Every year is new. If we can get the weather, I think everything will be okay with the new farm program.”

But not everything is rosy, according to Metheny. “We've gotten pretty lean and mean over the last few years, so I think we can weather most things.

“But the increase in oil and fuel prices is going to hurt.”

Metheny attended the gin show “to see what's new, see other farmers and get out of the house in the wintertime.”

Mark Mann, of Mann Land Leveling, Piggott, Ark., echoes Metheny's concern over fuel prices. He's looking at a 50 percent increase in fuel costs, which he'll have to pass on to his customers. “Because of that, fewer people will want to go with land-leveling.”

On the other hand, “A lot of the banks are wanting growers to level their land, and a lot of farmers don't want to farm a field unless it can be watered.”

Mann said that wet fall weather in 2002 brought his business to a standstill for months. “We did less than 100 acres last fall. And now it's going to be two to three weeks before we can work (with all the soggy ground from February and March rains).”

Donald Martin, who farms rice and soybeans in Cross County, Ark., is “not real excited” about the coming season. “Everything that we're selling is loan price.”

To get prices up, “we have to be able to sell our products. But we're having problems with all our neighbors that we sell to. Cuba should be opened up. There is unlimited demand for rice there, and it's 90 miles away.

“For us to think that we are going to punish Cuba and other countries by not shipping grain is wrong. If they have the money, they're going to buy it from someone else.”

Martin hoped to identify some new products for his farming operation at the gin show this year. “You have to stay up to date on everything. We're looking at grain carts, all types of seeds.

“If I can make an extra bushel per acre, that would help.”

Lonnie Gibson, who farms 2,100 acres of cotton, along with watermelons and cantaloupes in Arbyrd, Mo., is optimistic about the upcoming season.

“You have to be. I think there will be a lot of changes because some older farmers are deciding to quit.”

Gibson is optimistic about cotton prices rising. “All my marketing people are telling me that. I wish we could get back to where we're not supported by the government.”

When asked about concerns for the coming season, Gibson quickly said, “Budworms. We had a lot of conventional cotton last year.

“We had about a 900-pound average yield, but we sprayed all our cotton three times and some of it four. At $15 an acre plus $3 for an aerial application, it took all my profit from my melon crop. We'll go to more Bt cotton this year.”

Cotton producer Mike Griffin was a long way from his home in Suffolk, Va., but he was due a vacation. Extended wet weather in 2002 kept him out of the field a lot longer than he anticipated.

“We started harvesting cotton right around the end of October,” the producer said. “Then it rained at least once a week, every week for three months. We finished picking cotton on Jan. 29. In fact, I picked more cotton from Jan. 8 to Jan. 28 than I did from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31.”

As of March 1, Griffin hadn't seen grade reports on the cotton. “Generally, the cotton didn't look bad. I didn't see a lot of boll rot. The biggest problem I had was mud.”

Getting land prepared for spring planting “is going to take longer than it ever has,” he said. “Most every acre of our cotton land still has stalks and every field has at least some rutted up areas, no matter what the soil type.”

Yields in 2002 “were absolutely the worst ever for me. We had a good jump during planting season. We had a good plan. We had a little over half our cotton acres planted by May 1. On May 2, we had a rain which interrupted our planting schedule. And then it rained. And it rained. And it rained.

“We finally got the rest of the cotton planted around May 19. Cotton came up and was doing well, even the later-planted cotton. Then it started getting dry. And the wind blew. And it blew. It cut the plants down to one or two leaves. A lot came back, but it stayed dry.”

After the horrible harvest season added insult to injury, “we yielded 485 pounds to 500 pounds, compared to 925 pounds average. We certainly don't want to see another year like 2002.”

Still, Griffin is looking forward to the coming year. I hope 2002 was as bad as it gets for a while. If we get the new farm legislation all worked out and get everybody settled at the FSA offices, I'm optimistic.”


e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com.