Corn for steeds of history, present, Apr 19, 2007 9:48 AM, By Elton
Robinson, Farm Press Editorial Staff
This isn't the first time in Mississippi agricultural history that
demand for biofuel has encouraged huge corn plantings in the state.
Back in the 1940s and 1950s, over a million acres of corn were
planted annually in the Magnolia State to feed and power mules. Those
sturdy steeds of yesteryear performed many Mississippi farmers' field
operations prior to the widespread adoption of tractors.
Today, demand for ethanol has pushed corn acres in the state to the
highest level since the 1960s, but it's still far short of what was
planted during corn's heyday. The state grew more than 2 million
acres of corn annually between 1931 and 1950 and planted as many as 3
million acres in 1942. More than 2.5 million acres of cotton were
planted during back then.
But with mechanization, mule fuel is no longer a major destination
for corn. Noted Erick Larson, Mississippi Extension corn
specialist, "By the time we got into the 1970s, we were no longer
feeding corn to livestock to work the fields, and corn went to
300,000 acres or less from 1969 through 1996, when corn prices went
This year, Mid-South corn acres are expected to jump to 2.99 million
acres from 1.38 million acres last year. According to USDA,
Mississippi will plant 950,000 acres to corn in 2007, compared to
340,000 acres last year. Arkansas will increase from 190,000 acres to
560,000 acres; Louisiana, from 300,000 acres to 700,000 acres; and
Tennessee from 550,000 acres to 780,000 acres.
There's still some question whether this acreage will be planted.
Tennessee Extension corn specialist Angela Thompson noted in late
March that some growers "haven't put any seed in the ground yet, and
if they can't get a lot of planting done in the next two weeks, they
may plant soybeans."
Larson expects final Mississippi corn acreage to fall between 700,000
acres and a million acres, with most of the increase in the Delta
portion of the state.
Larson advises corn producers, especially those new to the crop, to
pay attention to fertilizer management, particularly nitrogen. Also
important scouting for insect pests, herbicide timing and selection
and irrigation scheduling.
"Corn can require water anytime between emergence and physiological
maturity, so keep close tabs on soil moisture levels," Larson
advised. "Corn's maximum water use period is the four weeks from
tasseling to early grain filling. But when (irrigation) needs to be
initiated depends on environmental conditions during the season.
Corn producers in the Mid-South suffered extensive economic losses in
1998 due to aflatoxin contamination, but Larson doesn't expect
significant problems this year. "Last year we had the second worst
drought in climatological history dating back to 1895 and we had very
slight problems with aflatoxin contamination. That's optimistic, but
a lot depends on demand for corn at harvest. Demand eased a lot of
the pressure associated with aflatoxin last year."
Larson says over 90 percent of the corn in the Mississippi Delta is
grown in Roundup Ready hybrids to combat the problem of glyphosate
Larson noted that Bt corn "has proven to be a very profitable
technology when corn borers are present, but the pest hasn't been as
much of a problem recently, so the adoption rate is less than 50
percent of the acreage generally, statewide."
Corn harvest is expected to stress the state's transportation
infrastructure this fall. "Fortunately we have the Mississippi River
and the Tombigbee Waterway and resources that utilize a lot of corn,"
Larson said. "We normally consume twice as much corn as we produce in
the state. We have limited long-term storage, so we cannot store a
significant portion of the crop. We'll have to rely on short-term
storage and moving the corn out of the state as soon as possible."
On March 30, USDA projected total U.S. corn area at 90.5 million
acres, which would be the highest acreage planted in 63 years. In the
Mid-South, much of the increase is coming at the expense of cotton.
If USDA's projections prove accurate, there will be a 40 percent
decline this year in Mississippi's cotton acreage this year, dropping
about 490,000 acres from 1.23 million acres to 740,000 acres. This
would be the first year since 1958 that corn acreage exceeded cotton