03/09/06 — Farmers will wait to plant corn crop

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Farmers will wait to plant corn crop

By Turner Walston
Published in News on March 9, 2006 1:56 PM

Wayne County farmers likely will wait a few more weeks before planting corn despite recent warmer than usual temperatures.

Corn is usually the first crop planted in eastern North Carolina, but dry weather has led many farmers to consider waiting a little longer before putting seed in the ground.

The county ranks among the top corn-producing counties in the state. Last year, Wayne growers raised more than 25,000 acres of corn, down from the previous year's total of about 27,000 acres.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent Kevin Johnson said he expects about the same amount of corn to be planted as last year.

"It's not going to be a lot of change between this year and last year. I suspect it'll be about the same acreage," he said.

David Vinson farms near Seven Springs. He said that with almost 1,700 acres, he has to get started as soon as it is feasible to get his crop harvested on time.

Vinson said the corn crop will need more moisture to get off to a good start.

"Right now, we're starting out dry. But with the corn crop, you never know. It's hit or miss. You've got about a week there of critical time," he said.

Vinson said he would probably harvest earlier than most area farmers.

"I'll start about the second week in August," he said. "I'll be probably one of the first to harvest, but sometimes I'm not the first to plant."

Also planting soon will be Harrell Overman, who farms in the Grantham area.

"It'll be two more weeks before we start," Overman said. Overman, who plans to plant about 1,600 acres of corn, offered no predictions on this year's crop.

"You don't ever know until you get going," he said.

Johnson said farmers need to get a head start on insects.

"They always need to control their insects early, and they either do that by putting out an insecticide as a plant or they get seed treatments they can put on the seed itself. There's a big investment in seed. If you put it in there, and you don't have protection, you could lose your investment," he said.

Johnson said the market for corn has remained stable worldwide.

"Most of the corn in the United States, and I guess the world, goes for animal feed, so it's a very stable market. It's not going to fluctuate," he said.

The United States remains the major player in corn worldwide, Johnson said, but North Carolina does not produce enough corn to cover its own demand.

"For the livestock integrators, there's not enough corn in North Carolina to supply their needs," he said. Livestock farmers buy local corn, but they also buy from the Midwest to supplement their feed supply.

"There's just not enough corn grown here," Johnson said.

Corn has been a major crop in North Carolina for decades. Acreage dropped during the 1990s, Johnson said, and some farmers switched to soybeans, but corn has made something of a comeback in Wayne and surrounding counties.

The possibility of selling corn to make ethanol has added incentive for growers to keep their hands in the corn business, Johnson said. In December, officials from Agri-Ethanol Products announced that they will build a $150 million ethanol plant in Beaufort County, near Aurora. The plant, which will produce 114 million gallons of ethanol annually, would be the first in the state.

"It's something we need to think about. I think in time, we're going to see more ethanol plants put up, and that'll utilize our products," Johnson said.