Mississippi farmers increased the state’s annual agricultural revenue in 2020, despite complications from the COVID pandemic, experts said.

According to information from the MSU Extension Service, Mississippi farmers generated an estimated $7.35 billion in 2020, a 5 % increase over 2019. Soybean producers also saw their products surpass timber as the state’s second most lucrative agricultural product behind poultry.

The 2020 agricultural year was fraught with difficulties and market uncertainties, but it ended reasonably well.

“The prices for corn, cotton, and soybeans ended the year on a high note, and this positively impacted revenue for farmers,” said Pontotoc County Extension Agent James Shannon. “Soybeans went up more than $2 (per bushel), so they (farmers) sold off the extra supply.”

That’s good news, Extension Service personnel said, especially given difficulties in the early going.

“We did some mid-year analysis on June 1, and the economic picture for farm products looked pretty bleak,” said Keith Coble, head of the MSU Department of Agricultural Economics. “We went through unprecedented losses early to midyear, but markets generally improved in the latter portion of the year.”

Even the Magnolia State’s perennial agricultural leader, poultry, was affected by the pandemic. Pontotoc County has no large-scale poultry production, but statewide the diversity of the business helped minimize the negative impact, extension experts said. Broilers suffered from spring inventory disruptions and lower prices. According to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Mississippi poultry farmers produced 763 million broilers in 2020.

Eggs were a brighter spot, experts said, increasing in estimated value by 21 %.

“Eggs faced significant production challenges during the COVID-19 shutdowns while also experiencing a sharp demand increase due to grocery store demand,” said MSU Agricultural Economist Josh Maples. “Sharply higher prices were the result of supply challenges at the same time as a demand increase.” Mississippi farmers produced a whopping 1,392 million eggs last year, according to the MDAC.

COVID had a deep effect on the timber industry, experts said. The pandemic caused many sawmills to scale back production or temporarily close. When the mills were not in operation, timber was not being cut and sold, so forestry declined an estimated 2.6 % from 2019 to an overall value of $1.12 billion.

Pontotoc County residents can see evidence for the upset in the timber market here at home, Shannon said.

“The price of lumber has gone up when you go to purchase it because a lot of folks have been building decks and other projects during the pandemic, but the price the landowner gets for raw trees hasn’t changed,” said Shannon. “We are growing more wood than we can get to market. New mills are being built to give the landowners more options. In a couple of years we will see this help the landowner.”

MDAC numbers show that Mississippi foresters produced 19,700,000 acres of timber in 2020. Forest landowners in the state number 125,000.

Difficulties in the timber industry in 2020 opened the door for soybeans to surge into second place with an estimated production value of $1.21 billion, a 67% increase over the previous year, Extension experts said. Soybeans also reclaimed acreage lost the previous year. Mississippi farmers produced 111,240,000 bushels of soybeans on 3,087 farms in 2020, according to MDAC data.

Agriculture is Mississippi’s number one industry, employing approximately 17.4 % of the state’s workforce, either directly or indirectly. Agriculture in the Magnolia State is a $7.35 billion industry. The state has approximately 34,700 farms covering 10.4 million acres. The average-sized farm is 300 acres.

Other noteworthy data from the MDAC shows that cotton is a $491 billion per-year industry in Mississippi, with farmers producing 1,310,000 bales last year on 780 farms. Corn produces an annual revenue of $387 million, with 88,690,000 produced in 2020 on 1,427 farms. Coming in at sixth place in the annual revenue generated is cattle and calves, generating $261 million. Last year cattle farmers produced 920,000 head on 15,980 farms.

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