MYRTLE BEACH Surrounded by tall, green, flourishing corn plants in a 100-acre field, Kyle Daniel is in awe of this year’s booming crop in Georgetown County, S.C.
“Corn is golden this year,” said Daniel, director of Georgetown County’s Farm Service Agency. “For the guy that planted early, he’s going to ring the bell on this corn crop.”
The financial windfall will come at the expense of Midwest farmers, who will have little crop this season because of the worst drought in 60 years.
The consumer will contribute a major piece of the monetary pie, because short supply and high demand will drive up grain prices not only for consumable corn, but for ethanol and animal feed. That also is expected to lead to increases in the cost of beef, poultry and eggs.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, the price of corn rose from $5 a bushel in May to $8 a bushel on July 25.
Many North Carolina farmers also will do well with corn this year, said Carl Pless, Cabarrus County crops and livestock agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.
“Corn was planted this year in places it hasn’t been planted in years,” Pless said, partly because farmers also got a good price for it last year. “There was less cotton planted this year and more acreage in corn.”
Farmers who planted corn early this spring and have had enough rain will have a good crop and get an excellent price, he said.
From afterthought to cash crop
“If you’ve got a tremendous yield plus a high price, the math on that works out real well,” Pless said. Corn this year could outpace traditional stalwarts soybeans and cotton in its importance to N.C. farmers, he said. “It’s going to be a really important crop this year.”
Daniel, the Georgetown Farm Service Agency director, said: “Given that almost half of the corn grown in the world comes from what is considered the breadbasket of the world, supplies are short and prospects of future supplies are dismal. This has generated a very strong demand for corn, resulting in some of the highest corn prices in U.S. history.
This year’s crop grew out of warm days at the end of February and March, which allowed local corn growers to plant early and avoid a late freeze. Then Tropical Storm Beryl in May provided much-needed rain when the crop was filling out.
“Not only did that complete the perfect growing season, South Carolina experienced low temperatures in June of 60 degrees several mornings in a row,” Daniel said. “Cool nights are critical for pollination, so excellent pollination, along with the perfect timing of rain, were the key ingredients for this bumper crop of corn.”
Not all S.C. farmers were fortunate enough to plant enough corn at the right time to have a good year, according to agriculture experts. Those who planted later in the year are struggling to keep their crop going now because the heat indices have been above 100 degrees several times in July.
Not booming everywhere
“The corn crop has made a decent crop. It’s not a failure like last year, when we did not have any corn in the county,” said Vicki Jordan, Farm Service Agency director for Horry County, S.C. “With corn crops, the ones that planted early enough, they’re not going to have a disaster, but they’re not going to make a booming crop.”
Chad Burrows, a Pleasant Hill, S.C., farmer, planted 40 acres of corn, 500 acres of cotton, 300 acres of soybeans and 61 acres of tobacco.
“The last three years, I didn’t make any corn,” Burrows said. “I wish we had planted a lot more corn right now. I would rather have corn than cotton this year.
“Last year, cotton was the ticket. We had good yield, good prices. Cotton has looked sick all year, but the last two weeks it has picked up a bit to save it.”
Even though Horry County’s drought status is normal and Georgetown County is incipient, the dry conditions have taken their toll on the area’s agriculture prospects.
“We had a little bit of rain and cooler temperatures early on, but now it is so dry,” Jordan said. “With temperatures up to 104 and 105, (many crops are) blistered and the rain has been sporadic.
Farmer Jeff Owens said he went an extra step this year by installing a center-pivot irrigation system for his corn.
“What’s under the pivots looks right good, but if you drive out past them you see where it dried out.”
Standing in Owens’ field with an ear of golden corn exposed, Daniel said: “This is really good corn. That’s some beautiful corn.”
In the Carolinas, the drought doesn’t compare to the crop damages Midwest farmers are facing. Their plight will result in higher food prices for everyone later this year.
In South Carolina, corn accounts for about $128 million in cash receipts and is the state’s fifth top commodity, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
“Rarely does a farmer experience good yields and good prices,” Daniel said, “but right now the local outlook is good.” Observer staff writer Scott Verner contributed to this report.