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Heat, lack of rain taking toll on crops

Lack of rain and a steady dose of blistering temperatures have taken a toll on Mississippi’s row crops, catfish, timber and cattle, agricultural experts say.

Bart Freeland, a scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weather facility in Stoneville, said some parts of the Delta were running more than a 10-inch rainfall deficit. He said many row crops need at least 20 inches of water, and some can use almost twice that amount in a growing season.

“We got sufficient rain early in the season, but when it came time for filling pods and bolls in June and July, many producers didn’t get the precipitation they needed,” Freeland said.

Freeland said the period from March to July was the second driest in Mississippi since record-keeping started in 1895. This year was the 10th driest June and July on record.

The drought intensified in June and continues now across the entire state, said Freeland, who is based at Mississippi State University’s Delta Research and Extension Center.

Much of Mississippi remains in a severe drought stage with the south Delta in an extreme drought. Only the southwest corner of the state is considered in a moderate drought.

Agricultural economist Steve Martin said the lack of rain during later growing months will increase production costs for all crops.

“Certainly between the drought and the heat, crops were a lot more expensive to produce because people had to irrigate more,” Martin said. “With diesel fuel running about 40 percent higher than last year, growers are also facing higher costs for harvesting.”

Researcher Dan Poston said soybean producers were experiencing some of the biggest losses this season, especially in fields that were not irrigated or where irrigation was mismanaged. Poston said the overall state average for soybean yields will be about six bushels lower than last year’s 37 bushels per acre.

Lyle Pringle, an MSU associate agricultural engineer who researches irrigation in cotton and corn production systems, said cotton yields also are expected to be down, especially in non-irrigated, or dryland, cotton.

“A lot of non-irrigated cotton has just crashed,” Pringle said. “It is wilted, and it generally quit developing sooner than its irrigated counterpart.”

Corn seemed to miss some damage caused by the late summer heat, Pringle said.

Rice researcher Nathan Buehring said rice, unlike other crops this season, actually may do well. He said the problems Mississippi rice producers faced this summer were kernel blanking and finding water sources for flooding.

“There is the potential, due to the heat that we’ve had, to have blanking and reduced yields, but we haven’t gotten in enough rice to really know if that’s going to be an effect of it,” Buehring said.

Prices will need to be good because producers are going to need rice to pay a good bit of bills this year.

The catfish industry has also suffered. In areas where producers build deeper ponds and rely on runoff and rainfall to keep winter rain-filled ponds full, the lack of rain has significantly lowered water levels. Catfish pond temperatures have been in the mid-90s.