Mississippi's corn crop can be divided into the “haves” and “have nots”; fields with access to irrigation have outstanding yields, and fields that relied on timely rains have not produced very well.
Mississippi State University's Extension Service grain crops specialist Erick Larson has seen a lot of corn in his career, but 2006 has been “the roughest year” he has witnessed in the state.
“Most of the dryland corn is averaging less than 100 bushels per acre, ranging from zero to 160 or slightly more. Irrigated corn varies according to irrigation management, with some growers producing their best yields ever,” Larson said.
Last year's state average corn yield was 129 bushels per acre. This year, the National Agricultural Statistics Service is estimating an average of 100 bushels per acre, which would be the lowest since the 100-bushel average produced in 2000.
“The irrigated corn crop will help the state average significantly,” Larson said. “About a third of the state's 300,000 acres of corn is irrigated.”
Larson said the timing of the drought was the worst aspect of the summer.
“Mississippi experienced the second driest March through July since the National Climatic Data Center started keeping records in 1895. Those are the months when corn is planted and maturing. Water is critical then,” Larson said. “Because the crop was exposed to hotter than normal temperatures and experienced such severe drought stress, severely stressed fields had corn plants die prematurely, so harvest started well ahead of schedule.”
Jerry Singleton, Extension area agronomic crops agent based in Leflore County, said farmers will be finished with corn harvest two weeks earlier than normal this year.
“Corn farmers with irrigation are happy with their yields this year, but the main complaint I've heard is the fuel cost to run irrigation. One farmer reported that a single electric well motor cost him $1,400 to run for the month of June. Most farmers are reporting costs nearly twice as high as last year,” Singleton said.
“There will be a lot of pencil-pushing this winter to determine how they can lower fuel costs and how they can get water to non-irrigated land,” Singleton said.
On the other side of the state, some of the challenges are the same and others different.
Dennis Reginelli, Extension area agronomic crops agent based in Noxubee County, said a very small percentage of east Mississippi fields are irrigated. Some farmers use watershed ponds of collected rainfall to irrigate their fields. Unlike in the Delta, underground water in east Mississippi often is too deep to justify the expense of drilling wells for irrigation.
“Some farmers are looking at expanding their irrigation capabilities, but they have to sacrifice cropland to do that,” Reginelli said. “Over time, the ability to irrigate, especially in years like this, can help even out the crop. Irrigated corn can yield twice as much as dryland fields.”
Reginelli said he has heard some farm averages are as low as 11 bushels and 39 bushels per acre because of the lack of moisture.