Bumper-to-bumper crop|Corn harvest in the region most bountiful

Published 7:52 pm Friday, September 25, 2009

Community Editor

PINETOWN — A season removed from a dreadful corn harvest, farmers throughout Beaufort County and eastern North Carolina are enjoying what some consider their most productive harvest in years.
“This is the best corn we’ve ever picked all the way across,” James Boyd, owner and founder of 3B Farms in Pinetown, said with a wide grin.
Boyd, 64, said he owns about 4,300 acres of corn in Beaufort, Hyde and Washington counties. Last year, the crops produced a 25 percent yield, according to Timmy “Tubbs” Waters, transportation coordinator for 3B Farms.
The low yield was caused by dry weather during the summer pollinating season. The corn plants need a significant amount of rain during the pollinating period to grow and sprout full ears of kernels, said Phil Black, owner of Black Farms outside Washington.
“Pollination is the most critical time for corn,” he said.
During the severe summer drought last year, kernels dried out and became susceptible to pests and contaminants.
“Basically, it all comes down to the weather,” said Todd Boyd, who is field manager at his father’s 3B Farms.
The younger Boyd said it’s hard to quantify the farm’s increase in corn yields from last year to this year, but he said it’s probably twice as much.
“Pretty much everyone is (seeing similar yields),” he said.
Black, who has yet to harvest his corn while tending to his farm’s primary crop, tobacco, reinforced the younger Boyd’s assessment.
“It’s probably about the best (corn) we’ve seen in a while,” he said.
Commodity farms will certainly benefit from the heavy harvest this year, but the elder Boyd said most farms are built to get through the tough seasons, too. In addition to corn, his farm grows beans, wheat and cotton to “spread out the risk factor,” he said. While his corn crops were struggling last season, the elder Boyd’s other crops made up for what was lost in revenue from the poor corn crop.
Still, he said, commodity farmers in the county and across the country rely heavily on grain-corn production.
“The country can’t stand for $7 corn and $4 gas like it was last year,” he said.
Waters, who makes a living hauling corn from harvest sites to 3B Farm’s distribution center off of Respess Road in Pinetown, didn’t have much work to do last season with such small loads coming in. Waters said that he and his fellow drivers thought they might be out of work come this year.
“We were all walking around wondering if we’d have a job,” he said.
Now, the drivers are working overtime to harvest 3B Farm’s sprawling 4,300 acres of corn by the end of September. Some have been working from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. since Aug. 15 to get the harvest finished.
But the longtime 3B Farm employees aren’t complaining.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Waters said. “Last year, it was tough with the dry weather.”
The effect of the big harvest is far-reaching.
The elder Boyd estimates that some 50 families are directly impacted by 3B Farm’s seasonal corn yield. Although he only has 12 full-time employees, ranging from truck drivers to crop dusters, the elder Boyd contracts the services of able-bodied farm hands from area farm operations when needed during the peak of the harvest. Drivers from Southern States’ Belhaven service may be spotted dumping corn at the distribution center on an almost-daily basis during the month-and-a-half-long harvest.
And with the large surplus of healthy grain corn waiting in the distribution center’s silos this harvest, more outbound trucks have been picking up loads, according to Sayra Waters, who weighs the trucks as they come in and out of the center. On a recent Wednesday afternoon in mid-September, more than six trucks from farming operations around the state picked up loads to carry outbound in the span of two hours. Among these trucks are some coming from Farmville, Nashville and Chatham County.
In North Carolina’s 2007 Census of Agriculture, which was released in early February of this year, crop sales in Beaufort County totaled $65,091,000, a 34 percent increase in sales from the last census taken in 2002. Of the crop sales, $45,750,000 came from grains (including corn), oil seeds, dry beans and dry peas, which ranks first among the 100 counties in the state for the commodity crops. And tops on the list for crop acreage used was corn, with 52,349 acres in the county.