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Down South, mud season lingers

DANIEL LOOKER 05/11/2013 @ 11:00pm Business Editor

Central and eastern Corn Belt farmers aren't alone in struggling with excess rain and cool weather this year.

Canton, Mississippi, farmer Danny Murphy has his corn planted, but its development is lagging in a spring that has seen excess rain and overnight temperatures hitting the 30s.

Murphy's corn (above) isn't yet knee high and some leaves are pale and yellowed. Some local corn "was shoulder high a year ago," he said on Friday.

Since last November 1, his area has gotten 47 inches of rain. "We're probably 10 to 12 inches above normal for this period in the year," he said.

Murphy, who is president of the American Soybean Association, normally starts planting beans around April 15. He's still wrapping up spraying and fertilizing on corn and hasn't started with soybeans yet.

"We just haven't missed a rain since the end of February. It takes four days to dry. You get one day to work, and it rains again," he said.

To the south and east of Canton, the corn on Charles Cannatella's farm at Melville, Louisiana, is looking better at four feet tall and higher.

"It was a little slow this year because of the cool spring, but in the last week, it's really grown," said Cannatella, who got his corn planted in March but is also running behind on soybean planting.

His region of south Louisiana normally gets about 60 inches of rain a year, less than the 45 to 50 inches that are typical of northern Louisiana and Murphy's part of Mississippi. This year his farm is also running ahead of normal on rainfall.

"Just in May, we're probably at 40 inches already," Cannatella said on Saturday.

Last year, when drought hurt yields in the Corn Belt, Southern farmers had excellent planting conditions, too, and well-timed rains. Both Louisiana and Mississippi were among Southern states with record yields of corn and other crops.

Even with hail hitting part of his corn a year ago, Cannatella had an average corn yield of about 180 bushels an acre Irrigated farms in northern Louisiana and harvested 220 to 230 bushel-yields.

This year the conditions don't match last year's near perfection of good stands and regular moderate .5-inch and 1-inch rains.

"You start getting 2- to 3-inch rains every week, I think we lose nitrogen and that hurts our yield," said Cannatella, who also raises wheat and grain sorghum.

Excess rain is one of the biggest challenges for growers in his area, Cannatella said. And it's why yields are more variable than in the Midwest.

For soybeans, "one year you might make 60 bushels, and the next year you make 20," Cannatella said.

A cold front that brought heavy rains moved through Louisiana and Mississippi late last week. Cannatella said the fronts normally stop in May, when his area starts getting spotty showers coming off the Gulf of Mexico.

Murphy and Cannatella aren't alone in struggling with planting this year. Last week's crop progress reports from USDA and Louisiana and Mississippi agriculture departments showed soybean planting at 39% complete in Louisiana and only 15% complete in Mississippi. That's significantly behind the five-year averages of 60% complete in Mississippi by now and 54% in Louisiana.

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