• By Bonnie Coblentz •
High commodity prices in 2021 pushed Mississippi agriculture to a sharp increase in total value — a record estimated $8.33 billion — despite a huge decline in government assistance aimed at coronavirus relief.
Agriculture’s estimated value is up 19% from 2020. Ag value is back to the high levels seen in 2012-2014. Commodities alone, without considering government payments, reached a record high of $7.88 billion, a 27% increase.
Poultry, soybeans and forestry continue to rank first, second and third, respectively, in the state’s agricultural economy.
Will Maples, agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said high prices were matched by mostly good yields. Strong exports added to the positive picture.
“The main cause of the increase we saw in commodity values this year was much better prices across the board,” Will Maples said. “It was a much better year for farmers, but we’re coming off some years with pretty low prices.”
Poultry posted an estimated $2.65 billion value in 2021, up 39% from the $1.9 billion it registered the previous year. Broilers saw the highest increases, but eggs and chickens also had positive growth.
Josh Maples, Extension agricultural economist, said this steep increase in poultry value represents a return to historic levels, rather than a new level of success.
“For poultry, this is really a rebound after a very low value of production in 2020,” he said. “The biggest driver of the increase was stronger broiler prices, which increased about 36% from where they were in 2020.”
Value of production totals do not include input costs, and these are a key concern for the poultry industry, Josh Maples said.
“Feed prices and energy prices are both sharply higher than they were in 2020,” he said.
Soybeans achieved an estimated value of $1.49 billion, up 25% from a value of $1.2 billion in 2020. This is the second year the crop has exceeded the value of forestry in Mississippi.
“Soybean prices were strong throughout 2021 helped by good exports and strong domestic demand,” Will Maples said. “We can probably expect the 2022 soybean market to remain in a similar price range with demand remaining strong.”
Forestry saw a relatively modest increase of 5.7%, but that pushed it to an estimated value of $1.29 billion, compared to $1.2 billion in 2020.
Shaun Tanger, MSU Extension assistant professor of forestry economics, said that most of this increase was driven by sawtimber and chip-n-saw prices.
“Mississippi’s prices were largely in-line with the entire South,” Tanger said. “Beginning in the second quarter, the price of both pine sawtimber and pine chip-n-saw increased to its highest respective levels in over five years.
“This is driven by weather-related supply constraints and tight inventories at the sawmills that are also trying to keep up with price volatility in lumber despite fairly steady increases in demand.”
While soybeans were the only row crop to single-handedly top $1 billion, Mississippi row crops brought in an overall estimated value of $3.31 billion, up 31% from the $2.52 billion posted in 2020. Hay, peanuts, rice and sweet potatoes were the only row crops with lower estimated values.
Wheat saw the greatest increase, up a whopping 450% to $27 million.
“We planted 60,000 acres of wheat this year, up from just 22,000 planted in 2020,” Maples said. “Better prices drove more acreage, and a combination of a lot better prices and a lot more acres accounted for the dramatic increase.”
Corn was up 129% from 2020 to an estimated value of $748 million. A major driver of this growth was an increase in corn acreage from 490,000 to 700,000 acres in 2021.
“Last year, we exported historic levels of corn to China, with China accounting for 32% of the entire U.S. corn export market,” Will Maples said. “This is an abnormal purchase from China, and there is a lot of uncertainty that they will be a consistent corn customer in the future.”
Cotton had a strong year in Mississippi, bringing a total value of $558 million, up an overall 27% from 2020 values based solely on strong prices.
“Cotton acreage was actually down from 525,000 in 2020 to 430,000 harvested in 2021,” Will Maples said.
Specialty crops are fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. These crops made the top 10 in Mississippi agriculture in 2021 with an estimated value of $108.5 million, a 2.5% increase.
Rice suffered the biggest decrease in estimated value, down 39% to $92 million.
“Rice was down because acreage was down this year,” Will Maples said. “Higher corn and soybean prices this past spring led rice to lose some acreage to other crops.”
Peanuts were another crop that was down in estimated value in 2021, dropping 27% to $14 million. Excessive rain at planting time kept some acreage from being planted to peanuts, and growers instead grew soybeans, which have a much longer planting window.
Sweet potatoes dropped 10% to $110 million.
Hay production held steady in Mississippi, dropping less than 1% to an estimated value of $160 million.
Strong hay production supports the state’s dairy and cattle industries. In 2021, cattle and calves increased 10% in estimated value to $282 million. Milk dropped 14.6% to $22 million based on lower milk production for the year.
Hogs were another bright spot, rising 33.5% in estimated value to $95.7 million.
“Hog prices are up by more than 40% over 2020 levels, which is the key driver for the higher value of production this year,” Josh Maples said. “Similar to poultry, this increase reflects much stronger prices compared to the very low prices in 2020.”
Catfish posted a $232 million estimated value in 2021 — up 3.5% — an increase supported by stronger catfish prices compared to 2020.
“This increase was offset by slightly lower water surface acres used for production, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates,” Josh Maples said.
Each year, producers across the country receive a variety of government payments through various ag safety net programs. COVID-19 relief in 2020 drove government payments up sharply to $766 million.
“That relief has mostly ended, though there has been some spillover into 2021,” Josh Maples said. “Government payments dropped 40% to a more typical $456 million in 2021.”
Bonnie Coblentz is a senior Extension associate writer with Mississippi State University. She may be reached at email@example.com