FAISON If its true that farmers only remember their worst years and their best ones, 2012 will stand out in their memories for a long while.
For corn growers in the drought-plagued Midwest, it may be one of the worst. For those who grow corn in North Carolina, its looking like one of the best.
Once in a while we get a blue moon, said Ron Heiniger, a corn specialist for N.C. State University based at a research station in Plymouth in Washington County. It looks like thats what going to happen this year. Weve got the confluence of a good crop and good prices. It only happens once in a while.
Corn prices on futures markets have hit record highs this summer based on fears that up to 15 percent of the crop grown in the Midwest will be lost because of the widespread drought. Final numbers wont be known until all the crop is harvested.
The high prices have generated stress among livestock farmers in North Carolina and elsewhere because feed, made mostly from corn and soybeans, makes up some 70 percent of the cost of raising pigs and chickens, both major agricultural products in the state.
North Carolina producers import two-thirds of the grain used to feed livestock here because the state is a bit player in the nations production of feed corn. Of the 96.4 million acres of corn the U.S. Department of Agriculture says was planted in the United States this year, less than 1 percent was in North Carolina.
Still, Heiniger said, the state has more than 2,000 registered corn growers, and some of them expanded their corn acreage this year because of strong prices last year.
Mostly, that will pay off. Except for an area in the Piedmont between Raleigh and Greensboro and another around Union and Stanly counties that didnt get enough rain, and a few spots near the coast that were blistered by July heat, most growers have enjoyed adequate rain and the absence of widespread diseases and insects.
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.
David Goforth, agriculture extension agent at the Cabarrus County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension, said the quality of the corn crop in the county will vary depending on how much rainfall each farmers fields received. He said he thinks some corn farmers in the state will benefit because of the drought.
The price of corn is up. The people that did get a good yield will benefit from other peoples misery, he said.
With prices so high and the potential of a grain scarcity, some livestock producers have said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should temporarily relax the ethanol fuel standard, which requires the addition of ethanol to gasoline. Most ethanol is made from corn; in recent years, ethanol production has used about 40 percent of the nations corn crop.
Darren Armstrong has begun picking his corn, which grows in the inky dirt of western Hyde County. With his father and two brothers, Armstrong has about 6,200 acres on which to raise corn, soybeans and wheat.
In the spring, when they sowed corn, prices were less than $5 a bushel, and with a decent crop, the Armstrongs could pay their bills and make a little extra.
If they get $8 a bushel, as it looks like they might, they could upgrade a piece of equipment or pick up a few more acres of land to expand the farm.
Or pay for the drought we had last year, Armstrong said.
Farming is a game of averages, growers say; while the best and the worst are the most memorable, farmers succeed or fail on averages. As Armstrong puts it, If you look at it over five years, youll have two good years, youll have two bad years, and youll have one year thats OK.
It will be several weeks before North Carolina growers have their crop harvested, and many will be anxious until its 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.
Theres a lot of money standing in those fields, Heiniger said. Weve just got to get it in the bin. Observer staff writer Kelly Mae Ross contributed.