MISSISSIPPI STATE, Miss. — Described as "far superior" to the record-setting 34-bushel-per-acre 1992 crop, 2003 soybeans look to be the best in Mississippi history.

Mississippi State University Extension Service soybean specialist Alan Blaine said the actual per-bushel number will exceed the September U.S. Department of Agriculture prediction of 34 bushels.

"Thirty-four bushels per acre is entirely too low. We will have at least 38 to 40 bushels," Blaine said. "Soybean yields this season are exceptional — the best per-acre crop Mississippi has ever harvested."

Blaine said about 75 percent of the crop was harvested by the second week of October. Late-planted and -maturing soybeans in the north Delta and north Mississippi should be completely harvested by late October.

"With the exception of one blip, we've had great weather for harvesting soybeans," Blaine said. "We just need another 25 days and this crop will be history. The fog and humidity over the last few days aren't great for soybeans, but it's nothing compared to previous years. We just need to get the sun to pop out so we can get in the fields."

Late-season rains in 2001 and 2002 doused growers' hopes of surpassing the 1992 record. However, growers managed to average 33 and 32 bushels per acre despite weather conditions those years.

The only major problem with this year's crop has been a widespread occurrence of late-season cercospora. "This is not something we see every year, so if we continue to plant high-yielding, early-maturing varieties, this should not be a consistent problem," Blaine said.

Extension agricultural economist John Anderson said cash prices for soybeans at the elevator are between $6.80 and $7 per bushel, up about $1.50 from August prices and more than a dollar higher than last year.

"There's been a tremendous rally in the soybean market in late summer and early fall," Anderson said. "The price has been going up fairly dramatically because mostly hot, dry weather in the Midwest has caused people to anticipate a small crop."

Reduced soybean yields in those states will help Mississippi growers get premium prices for their crop. But with no indication that Mississippi's crop would be so much better than others in the country, many farmers pre-sold their soybeans and may miss out on the current price rally.

Growers usually pre-sell a portion of their crop as a means of managing price risk should the value of the soybeans drop below the cost of production. Anderson said growers must take many factors into consideration when deciding whether or not to forward-price soybeans and other crops.

Keryn Page writes for Mississippi State University.