It was a remarkable sight…a standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 growers, packed into the University of Georgia Tifton Campus Conference Center auditorium on an unseasonably warm mid-January day for a corn production short course.
Here in the land of cotton, in the peanut capital of the world, farmers were going so far as to fill up the front rows to learn whatever they could about the latest crop craze.
With temperatures hovering near 80 and clear skies, they could have been anywhere else doing most anything else, but they chose to spend the better part of a day soaking up the latest in corn production technology — a subject normally reserved for their Midwestern counterparts.
The laws of supply and demand usually require that for a crop to flourish in one part of the country, a disaster must occur somewhere else, and that certainly has been the case with U.S. corn production.
Not that Southeastern farmers haven’t always been capable of producing high-quality, high-yielding corn, but the financial incentive for them to do so might never have presented itself if not for extreme drought conditions in the Midwestern region of the country.
University of Georgia Extension Economist Nathan Smith confirmed what growers in the packed room already knew — that corn was the best bet for profitability in 2013.
Just days before the meeting, corn prices had surged, capping the biggest weekly rally since July, after the government said stockpiles in the U.S. — the world’s largest corn grower and exporter — shrank more than analysts expected because of a drought-reduced harvest and rising demand for livestock feed.
Corn production fell 13 percent last year after the worst drought since the 1930s damaged crops across the Midwest.
The USDA, in its most recent report, said that U.S. corn harvest totaled 10.78 billion bushels. While that’s up from 10.725 billion estimated in December, it’s down from 12.36 billion collected in 2011 and the lowest in six years, said Smith. Analysts had expected 10.65 billion bushels, on average.
Inventories before the 2013 harvest will total 602 million bushels, compared with 647 million estimated in December and 989 million at the start of this marketing year, said Smith.
Supplies held in farmer grain bins fell 26 percent from a year earlier to the smallest for that time of year since 1995, and USDA estimates that cash corn prices in the current marketing year will average $7.40 a bushel, unchanged from the month-ago estimate and up from $6.22 last year.
As Smith revealed the preliminary Extension crop budget numbers for this season, it became apparent that the only remaining mystery about crop planting intentions in the Southeast this year will be the final numbers.
Ranked by their estimated net returns, Georgia crops finished in this order — corn, soybeans and cotton, followed distantly by peanuts. What a difference a year makes.
But the “rock stars” of the meeting were saved for last, insuring there wasn’t the typical drop-off in attendance following lunch.
Sharing some of the secrets of their success were three perennial winners of the National Corn Growers Association Yield Contest: Randy Dowdy of Georgia, Steven Albracht of Texas, and Jerry Cox of Missouri.
Dowdy had the second highest national irrigated yield of 372.33 bushels per acre this past year, and he also placed second nationally in 2011 with a yield of 364 bushels per acre.
No disrespect to the other two growers at the meeting, both of whom are long-time producers of exceptional corn yields, but it was obvious that most farmers in the room came to hear what Dowdy had to say. After all, he was one of their own – a south Georgia farmer who had somehow climbed to the top of the charts nationwide in terms of corn yield.
It’s like seeing your home-state team in the final BCS standings — a mixture of pride and amazement.
A self-professed perfectionist, Dowdy didn’t disappoint, meticulously detailing each step of his production process and answering numerous questions following his presentation.
But the most memorable thing he said was a challenge to his fellow growers: “I made these yields because I was willing to try new things — the challenge is to try something new,” said Dowdy, who then asked for a show of hands from those farmers who were willing to try something new and different this year.
It was nearly unanimous.