Mississippi’s 2010 corn crop is off to a promising start after recent sunny skies and favorable soil conditions gave farmers a chance to plant and manage their fields.

“The nice weather during the first week of April allowed a tremendous amount of field work to get done, particularly in north Mississippi where farmers can finally begin planting corn,” said grain crops agronomist Erick Larson of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

“This was the first good weather that many farmers have had in a while.”

Corn planting is rapidly concluding in many areas of the state where rainfall has been light for a few weeks. Young corn plants are growing quickly in response to warm weather, and growers are applying fertilizer and preparing for the next phase of production.

“Farmers are going full throttle anywhere they haven’t finished to get the most out of the window of opportunity provided by the dry weather,” Larson said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts Mississippi will be one of eight states to increase corn acreage in 2010. The planting intentions report estimate for the state corn crop is 800,000 acres.

Mississippi farmers planted 720,000 acres of corn in 2009 and harvested 695,000 acres. They averaged 126 bushels per acre on that crop and $4 on each bushel.

“Rains, especially in the Corn Belt, delayed planting and pushed prices higher during the first part of 2009,” said Extension agricultural economist John Michael Riley. “Nearly ideal weather in late June and July brought corn prices down, but they recovered when more rains and snow in some areas of the country occurred during harvest.”

Corn continues to be an attractive crop for Mississippi, and there are signs that corn can be produced for a profit. But the disparity between corn, soybean and cotton prices has evened out lately, Riley said.

USDA’s projection for this year’s season-average corn prices is $3.50 to $3.70 per bushel, which is a 5-cent drop at both ends from prices projected for last year. At this point in time, corn prices are down, but all this could change.

Many factors influence price levels during the marketing year, including ending stocks, exports and diversion to ethanol production. Ending stocks, or the amount of corn held in storage, are on the rise.

“The ending stocks in USDA’s current World Ag Supply and Demand Report showed another 100 million-bushel increase, and that continues to keep a lid on prices right now,” Riley said.

Demand for corn in animal feed has decline, which has also hurt prices. The beef, dairy, hog and chicken segments of the livestock industry shed considerable numbers of animals last year due to the dismal economy. Inventories are just starting to build back up.

“As we move into summer, oil prices will begin to increase, and that movement will add support to corn prices as ethanol production gears up,” Riley said.