Bolstered by increases in poultry and row crops, agricultural economists are estimating Mississippi's 2001 farm production value remained near $4.8 billion, a 2.6-percent increase over the previous year. Poultry, Mississippi's No. 1 agricultural commodity since 1994, was one of the state's bright spots with a 12-percent increase over 2000 values. Broilers, eggs and chickens are estimated at $1.5 billion. Poultry exports experienced major growth in 2001 — the first year export tonnage increases exceeded production growth increases. Exports are expected to continue to rise in 2002.

Charlie Forrest, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said oversupplies caused prices to drop on most commodities, including cotton, hay, rice, and soybeans. Larger acreage enabled cotton, Mississippi's third largest commodity, to post a 9-percent increase in value, despite late-season rains and low prices.

“A record U.S. cotton crop and large foreign production resulted in prices being the lowest they have been in almost 30 years, just below 30 cents per pound during harvest,” Forrest said. “Prices for most row crops are near or below breakeven levels.”

Two of Mississippi's larger agricultural industries — forestry and catfish — are predicted to suffer value decreases near 10 percent. Forestry's harvested volume was about 12 percent lower, and prices were down on saw timber and continued low on pulpwood. The year was harder on the forest industry than it was on landowners, who opted not to sell timber until prices improve.

Terry Hanson, MSU agricultural economist, said the catfish industry suffered dramatically from oversupply, the economic recession and competition from Vietnamese fish fillets marketed as catfish. Economists predict catfish total value near $271 million, a 9.4-percent decrease.

“Prices averaged at least 10 cents per pound lower in 2001 and finished the year at historic low prices, around 50 cents per pound. No industry expansion is expected until the national economy begins to recover,” Hanson said.

One commodity that excelled in 2001 was corn. Economists are estimating an almost 42-percent increase over last year's drought-stricken corn crop for a total farm value of almost $104 million.

Extension corn specialist Erick Larson said Mississippi growers harvested record yields averaging 130 bushels per acre on 400,000 acres. Last year, growers averaged 100 bushels of corn per acre on 410,000 acres.

“Corn yields have been increasing faster than any of the other row crops. In the past 20 years, Mississippi's state average corn yield has more than doubled,” Larson said. “This year, most of the credit goes to the ideal weather, but in general, it can be attributed to improvement in inputs, management and the freedom to rotate crops more than in the past.”

Larson said the 1996 farm bill allowed farmers to utilize crop rotation more than in the past. Rotation not only improves corn yields, but also other crops by 10 to 20 percent.

The 2001 farm value estimates include a 68-percent increase in hay for a total of $94 million, compared to last year's drought-stricken level of $56 million.


Linda Breazeale writes for MSU Ag Communications.