03/26/07 — Farmers adding thousands more acres to meet corn demand

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Farmers adding thousands more acres to meet corn demand

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 26, 2007 1:54 PM

Wayne County farmers will likely plant 40,000 acres of corn this year, says the county's crop agent with the state Cooperative Extension Service.

That would be a significant increase over the normal crop of about 25,000 to 30,000 acres, Kevin Johnson said.

The motive for the increase is the growing demand for corn worldwide and resulting higher prices.

The interest in ethanol as a fuel has led to more farmers across the U.S. planning on planting more corn this year, federal agricultural officials have said.

In his State of the Union Address, President George Bush noted that the United States needs to diversify its energy supply. Ethanol, which can be made from corn or other crops, is high on the list of alternative fuels. The president said the U.S. should be looking to reduce its reliance on gasoline by 20 percent over the next decade.

The idea of more bushels of corn bringing back more money per bushel is exciting for growers. But Johnson was quick to note that corn is one of the more delicate crops in eastern North Carolina, less able to withstand drought than either cotton or tobacco.

"If we have a hot, dry season, that could be it for corn," he said.

The last several years have been good ones for corn, Johnson added, with plenty of rain at the right time of the season. That has led to record yields.

Local farmer Matt Sanderson produced a Wayne County record last year with 261.41 bushels of corn. Other area farmers were also successful with corn production last year, including Bryant Worley Farms with 203 bushels per acre and Harrell Overman with 221 bushels per acre. The timing of last year's rains helped contribute to those farmers' successes, Johnson pointed out.

Corn needs rain during a crucial stage in its development -- the 2-3 week period in summer when it tassels and starts producing ears of grain. That pollination period, usually in May or June, depending on when the corn was planted and the variety used, is crucial to a successful harvest.

Many Wayne County growers were headed to the fields this week to put corn seed in the ground. The soil is dry right now but rain has been forecast for this week. Rain is needed for the seeds to germinate.

Grower Kenneth Sanderson said that while are farmers are hopeful of a good corn crop, that there are too many variables at work to guarantee success. The price of seed, fertilizer and herbicides and insecticides has to be calculated as well as the weather, he said.

"You can't count your eggs until they're in the basket," he said.

Overman and the Sandersons said that despite the sudden interest in corn they aren't going to change their usual routine of planting a variety of crops.

Both grow corn but also have a double crop of wheat and soybeans that they plant in June.

"We don't want to steer from that, so we're not doing much different," Sanderson said.

"Corn is risky because of the need for rain," Overman said. "I wouldn't go all in with corn."