Agriculture - November 2009

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), District growers enjoyed improved weather conditions in October, which allowed them to resume fieldwork activities. However, excessive rains damaged some crops in Mississippi. A Mississippi State University report estimates that over half of the cotton, soybean, and sweet potato crops were damaged by October storms. Mississippi officials have requested $2.2 billion in disaster assistance to help growers with recent crop losses.

According to recent USDA estimates, poultry production in the fourth quarter will be up only slightly following four consecutive quarters of declines. Broiler prices have been steadily declining since June. For 2010, USDA estimates are little changed, with positive factors such as lower feed prices partially canceling negative factors such as weak domestic and global demands. Poultry exports to the region's top markets, Russia and China, have recently weakened from 2008's high levels. Fortunately, sales to smaller markets—Mexico, Lithuania, Iraq, and the Central American countries—helped offset reduced sales to Russia and China.

According to the USDA, approximately half of the District's cotton crop was rated from good to excellent. Sixty percent of Georgia's and Tennessee's cotton crops received above-average ratings. However, recent rains have damaged over half of Mississippi's cotton crop. Continuing soft market conditions caused cotton prices in October to stay below 50 cents.

During 2009, a combination of lower volumes (as cotton acreage shifted to other higher revenue-producing crops) and lower prices (resulting from soft global demand) caused net cotton exports to decline from 2008 levels. However, according to the USDA, global market conditions for 2010 are more favorable for U.S. cotton exports largely because of decreasing stocks and tight markets.

Citrus producers in 2009 were challenged by citrus canker and greening diseases, which have reduced production and raised operating costs. A smaller Florida crop has resulted in higher prices. Prices received by orange growers in October, although slightly down from September, were still more than double year-earlier levels.

For 2010, the outlook is mixed. Recent estimates of a smaller citrus crop have sustained an uptick in futures prices. Higher prices, if continued into 2010, should compensate for the high costs of ongoing battles with diseases.