North Mississippi farmers came to the annual Mississippi State University Producer Advisory Council meeting with a wish list of research, staffing, and support efforts they’d like to see in the months ahead.

The yearly get-together, an outgrowth of a tradition that started more than 50 years ago under a shade tree at the Holly Springs Experiment Station, now includes farmers, Extension, research, agribusiness, and representatives of various governmental entities who discuss needs for improving the region’s agriculture.

“We value the input we get from these sessions,” said Steve Martin, head of the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center at Verona, where the meeting was held. “The suggestions we receive are an important component of the university system’s planning process.”

Among suggestions for row crop, forestry, and other non-livestock sectors were:

Cotton: “This is a very complex crop,” said Joe Camp, “and we’re seeing more technologies developed around cotton — the whole game is changing, and there is a continual learning process for all of us in how best to manage this crop.”

To that end he said, producers need information on emerging weed control technologies, particularly in relation to herbicide resistance. “We also need more research on defoliation, which is, in many cases, more art than science. We need to know more about how to manage this production component successfully.”

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Research is also needed, Camp says, into management of nematodes and optimization of fertilizer and plant populations.

“We need to know how to more precisely use fertilizer — nobody wants to use too much, nobody wants to use too little.  And with seed costs and technology costs associated with seed continuing to increase, we need to know more about achieving optimum plant populations for maintaining profitability.”

And Camp says, “We need for the university to continue large on-farm trials — this is something that is very beneficial to growers, and helps keep the entire industry in check.”

Grains: Additional research on corn insect control, seed treatments, and starter fertilizer, are among the needs outlined by producer Dale Weaver.

“There has been increasing concern in our area about sugarcane beetle damage,” he says, “and we could use more information on this pest.

“We all know what Bt has done for corn and cotton, and although not available here, we understand Bt soybeans are now being planted in South America. We would like for seed companies to realize the benefit that Bt soybean technology could hold for U.S. producers.”

Iron chlorosis is “a big problem statewide” in soybeans, Weaver says, “and we’d like to see research on varieties and treatments to deal with this problem.”

Sentinel plots for peanuts

Peanuts: Jason Sarver, Mississippi’s new Extension peanut specialist, says producers at the meeting told him they would like growing area maps for the state that they could use to keep track of diseases and other information, along with strategically located sentinel plots that can be used to alert growers about diseases that may be spreading from tropical storms or other weather fronts.

“They would also like for Dr. Alan Henn, Extension plant pathologist, to continue his peanut disease screening program — which has already provided important information to them.

“They would also like to continue peanut variety trials and expand them to a few more locations in order to provide more specific data about variety performance at various locations. And they would like new cutting edge varieties to be included in those trials.”

Sweet potatoes: “We would like to request more research on nutgrass control,” said producer Jamie Earp. “There were numerous fields this year that were pretty badly infested. Steve Myers, our Extension sweet potato specialist, had some trials this past year, but we need to know more about coping with this weed.

“And we need further research on tip — there’s still much we don’t know about this disease. We also need research on insects, including preplant insecticides.” 

At the national level, Earp says, there are only two sweet potato breeders. “If we’re going to be a viable industry long term, there needs to be a plan in place to succeed these key people when they retire.”

Fruits/nuts: Gerald Jetton: “We’d like to more research on pecans and walnuts,” said Gerald Jetton. “We’d also like for the Extension service to consider obtaining a sprayer that could be rented to smaller producers who can’t afford the cost of a big sprayer.

“We’d also like more research on blackberries, blueberries, and other small fruits — which varieties are better for north Mississippi, and what kind of production can be expected? Also, more peach and pear research.”

Forestry/Wildlife: “We would like to request a centralized database of timber buyers so we can know where we can go for market information,” said Matthew Kimbrough.

“We’d like a study of property taxes and how increases in those taxes would affect our industry. We’d like a study on the economic impact of rural road permits for those hauling loads of timber on those roads.”

Ornamentals: “We’d like more research on the use of edible plants in the home landscape for ornamentals and cut flowers,” said Tim Burress.

“Most of us in the business know how pretty a squash or an okra bloom can be, and we need to educate the pubic on the benefits of edible plants in their landscaping.

“We’d also like to have updated publications on bees, butterflies, and other pollinator insects, along with research on alternative non-pesticide mosquito control — bats, hummingbirds, dragonflies.

“We’d like to see standardized labeling for soil and mulch products so we’ll know what’s actually in them. And we’d like more use of social media to allow us to communicate with university specialists and between others in our industry.”

Turf: Chris Hussey: “There are 2.5 million acres of turf in Mississippi, about a half million acres of that in home lawns,” said Chris Hussey. “We would like more educational publications and other informational materials to tell homeowners how to better take care of their grass.

“We also want to continue the good research underway on fertilizer fertilizer, weed control, and pesticides, but we need a more direct venue to get this information from our university turf specialists to homeowners. We need to find better ways to disseminate this knowledge.”

And Hussey said, “We appreciate MSU hiring a new Extension turf specialist, James McCurdy.”

Vegetables: “We’d like more trials on early vegetable varieties — tomatoes, beans, etc.,” said Ronald Spears: “Also, we like studies on organic pesticides versus non-organic, weed control with 2,4-D and drift concerns, and more information on hydroponic production.”