Wilkes County corn farmers can expect record high prices for their crops this year due to the impact of a severe drought on much of the rest of the nation, said John Cothren, livestock and row crop agent for the Wilkes Cooperative Extension Service.
“Overall, there is an excellent corn crop this year” in Wilkes, said Cothren in an interview Friday after he lead the annual Wilkes County Corn Tour. He said most of Wilkes had enough rain this year to produce bountiful corn crops, with too much rain in a few bottomland cornfields.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday predicted that a drought stretching from Ohio to California and the hottest July since 1936 would reduce the corn crop nationwide by 13 percent to a six-year low of about 10.8 billion bushels.
“Wilkes growers were looking at an average of $5 per bushel (for corn grown for grain) when they planted this year’s crop in the spring,” he said. Due to the nation’s worst drought in half a century, said Cothren, prices are well above $8 per bushel and should climb higher.
Although Wilkes has ranked second among the state’s 100 counties in silage production (with Iredell County first) in the past and the largest percent of Wilkes corn is still grown for silage, the percent planted in shell (grain) corn has risen in recent years due to its increasing profitability.
The shell corn yield should average about 120 to 130 bushels per acre in Wilkes this year, said Cothren. Wilkes corn grown for grain is sold as feed for dairy and beef cattle and chickens.
Harvesting of corn for silage has started on the fields planted first and will shift more to shell corn later.
With about 6,500 acres planted in corn and about 85 growers in Wilkes, corn is the county’s largest row crop.
Cothren said corn acreage in Wilkes increased this year, partly because more farmers are growing corn after selling all of their cattle to take advantage of record beef prices. He said some hayland and other cropland were converted to corn in the county.
Although record corn prices are driving up prices for cattle feed, said Cothren, the reduction in beef cattle numbers should increase prices paid to producers for cattle.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture reported that corn yields statewide should be significantly higher this year, compared to the prior year. Total production of 88.9 million bushels is up 30 percent from last year, but harvested acres are down by about 35,000 acres.
Soybean production in North Carolina is up by 28 percent, primarily due to about 270,000 more acres planted this year. North Carolina is expected to harvest 1.63 million acres of soybeans in 2012.
When farmers planted 96.4 million acres of corn this spring, the most since 1937, the USDA predicted the nation’s largest harvest ever.
American farmers are still expected to produce their eighth-largest harvest ever this year, partly due to advances in seed technology that produced hardier, more drought-tolerant corn varieties.
As usual, the corn tour Friday featured a corn hybrid demonstration plot with 20 different seed varieties produced by 10 different companies, which were Southern States, Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta, Seed Consultants, Ag Venture, Dyna-Gro, Mycogen, Doeblers and Augusta.
Representatives of the companies talked about their seeds, all for shell corn, at the demonstration plot, which was in a field on Ranse Staley Road owned by Cranberry Farms in the Cranberry community.
As part of the same effort, said Cothren, different seed varieties were also planted this year in demonstration plots in Iredell, Davie, Rowan and Yadkin counties.
Yield results of the different varieties and growing conditions of demonstration plots in the five counties will be compiled and made available by the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service farmers to use in deciding which seed varieties to plant.
Cothren said there was discussion about sugar cane beetles, which are damaging corn in clay fields of Iredell and some other Piedmont counties this year. The beetles stunt and reduce yield of corn plants.
Sugar cane beetles haven’t yet been detected in Wilkes and “the best precaution now is in the (corn) variety you select,” he said.
There were about 50 people on the tour, mostly farmers from Wilkes. Cothren said it was the largest crowd for a Wilkes County Corn Tour in several years, illustrating the increased local interest in corn production.
Along with the seed companies, sponsors were Carolina Farm Credit, Cranberry Farms and the Cranberry Community Center, where lunch was served.