2006 corn profits may prove elusive

For Georgia farmers who have planted corn to start the 2006 growing season, the good news is that prices are higher now. Unfortunately, it is costing more to grow it. But University of Georgia specialists say growers can do some things to make the most of their efforts.

Corn prices in Georgia averaged $2.15 per bushel last year, the lowest in five years.

The price now for the 2006 crop is around $2.70, says Nathan Smith, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension economist.

Smith tells farmers to think about contracting some of their 2006 crop now. “Prices now are attractive,” he said in late March, “based on what we may see later in the season.”

Getting the best price will be critical because fuel and fertilizer costs are up this year, too, he says. Georgia farmers spent about $400 per acre to grow irrigated corn last year. It'll cost about $458 this year.

Among corn-producing states, Georgia is a minor player. The state's farmers harvested about 230,000 acres of corn last year and averaged 130 bushels per acre.

University of Georgia Extension agronomist Dewey Lee said farmers may want to think “spacing” to get more out of their corn.

They typically plant corn that will grow under irrigation at 28,000 to 30,000 seeds per acre in rows that are 3 feet apart. On land without irrigation, they plant 18,000 to 20,000 seeds per acre.

Research has shown, Lee says, that farmers can improve yields by simply planting the same number of seeds in rows that are 20 inches apart.

This allows for a fuller plant canopy, which blocks out weeds, and cools down the soil.

It can all add up to as much as 15 percent higher yields in Georgia, he says. The practice has been used in the Midwest, where most of the U.S. corn crop is grown.

Most Georgia corn farmers plant peanuts and cotton, too. Most of their planters are set for all crops, Lee says, and not for 20-inch rows. But it's something farmers could consider.

Lee tells farmers that, based on fertility research, they need to use 1.2 pounds of nitrogen per acre for every bushel of corn they want to grow. For example, if a farmer wants to make 200 bushels per acre, he needs to apply 240 pounds of nitrogen.

Corn needs a lot of water, either from irrigation or rainfall. It needs about one-third of an inch a day during its silking stage, which happens in Georgia in late May and early June. About 65 percent of corn in Georgia is irrigated.

Diseases cost Georgia corn farmers about $10 million a year. But it's rare for a corn disease to destroy an entire field in Georgia, says Bob Kemerait, a University of Georgia Extension plant pathologist.

Historically, the state's corn growers haven't used fungicides to control diseases. It just wasn't economical. A disease called Southern corn rust, however, can cause severe yield losses in Georgia corn.

Some new fungicides, though, can make a difference. Farmers who want to go for high yields should consider using them, the experts say, to get the most from their corn.

Before using fungicides, however, they should think about the weather, the time of year and how much disease pressure is in a field. Sometimes farmers get a return on using them in Georgia. Sometimes they don't. Research in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences during the past three years can help farmers make that decision.

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