Local corn growers “optimistic”

Published 8:55 pm Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Corn prices have hit record highs this summer because of drought in the Midwest states. For area farmers, that may mean a rare confluence of events could happen: a good crop combined with good prices.
Fears that up to 15 percent of crops in the Midwest will be lost to drought have driven prices up. While North Carolina livestock farmers have been negatively impacted by resultant feed prices, local corn growers are looking forward to a good harvest and even better prices.
“I think it should be a pretty good year for people around here,” said Beaufort County farmer Sandy Ratcliff. “I’m pretty optimistic right now.”
Ratcliff is growing 535 acres of corn on his 1,250-acre farm. He said two things may be working against his crop this year: the remnants of Tropical Storm Beryl in May put some of his corn crop underwater for a few days and the fact his corn began pollinating in 95- to 100-degree heat.
“That’s not a good thing for corn pollination,” Ratcliff explained.
Despite those two crop stressors, Ratcliff said that if corn is selling at $7 a bushel, he should get a pretty good return this year.
Last week, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services forecast that North Carolina corn farmers would harvest 114 bushels per acre on average, up 30 bushels per acre from last year and above the 10-year average.
In some areas, Heiniger said, farmers may see yields of as high as 300 bushels per acre. In some parts of the Midwest, farmers are expecting 124 bushels per acre, dismal by their standards.
It will be several weeks before North Carolina growers have their crop harvested, and many, like Ratcliff, will be watching the prices until it’s all gathered and stored. Corn harvesting coincides with what is often the most active part of the Atlantic hurricane season, and much of the crop is grown near the coast, where it can be blown over by high winds and drowned by heavy rains.
“Volatility is the key to everything,” said Ratcliff. “Even though commodity prices are really high, what happens in the wake of that is the production inputs rise in price, too.”
Ratcliff said the cost of items like dry bulk fertilizer, liquid nitrogen, seed prices, herbicides and insecticides rise in cost along with the selling price of a bushel of corn.
But this year’s adequate rainfall combined with the Midwest’s woes, mean farmers like Ratcliff stand to have a better than average year, if not make up entirely for last year’s shortfall.
“I’m told some people are harvesting really good crops,” Ratcliff said. “If (mine) comes in, I stand to do well.”