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“I HAVE TO believe 2014 will be a better year weather-wise than last year. So if we do basically the same thing, I think we have a good chance to have a much better crop," says Jay Sullivan, president of the North Carolina Corn Growers Association.

Carolina grain growers optimistic about 2014

North Carolina corn growers will have to scrutinize every nickel and dime, because they are likely to be growing $4.50 to $5 corn versus $7 a bushel. Late-planted soybeans were damaged this past year by heavy rainfall. Wheat crop in North Carolina looks to have good potential.    

Jay Sullivan, president of the North Carolina Corn Growers Association, says he plans to plant about the same number of corn acres as last year. “Price is always important, but you have to look at crop rotations and other factors, too,” he said.

Sullivan, who farms in Samson County, N.C., with his son, says he is optimistic about the 2014 season.  “We know light, or lack of light, is a limiting factor in corn production, and last year we got so much rain and had so many days of cloudy weather, but we still produced a pretty good corn crop.

“I have to believe 2014 will be a better year weather-wise than last year. So if we do basically the same thing, I think we have a good chance to have a much better crop.  Had we not got so much rain and cloudy weather on our farm last year, I think we would have produced one of the best, if not the best, corn crop ever,” he said.

“We had a lot of rain—too much rain in many areas of the state, and statewide we had a well-above-average number of cloudy days. None of that is conducive to high corn yields, which tells me the best is yet to come,” says North Carolina State University corn specialist Ronnie Heiniger.

He stresses this year will be the first in the past few in which growers will have to scrutinize every nickel and dime that goes into a corn crop, because they are likely to be growing $4.50 to $5 corn versus $7 a bushel and up.

How much price will impact corn acreage next year is a hotly debated question. Heiniger contends the opportunity to grow higher yields can offset some of the loss of revenue because of price reductions for corn.  “If you’re growing corn for $5 an acre or less, you better be sure you can produce significantly more than 100 bushels per acre,” he adds.

With the per-acre cost of growing corn in the $500 per acre range in most farming operations in the V-C Region, even the state record yield of 142 bushels per acre would be marginally profitable in some grain farming operations, especially those with significant costs for land rent.

Heiniger, who is also widely known among Southeast farmers for his prowess in predicting weather cycles, says the neutral pattern that has been in place over the past year appears likely to stay in place for at least part of the 2014 growing season.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If corn growers can get their crop planted on time and get some moderation in weather pattern, it could provide rain and times in which its needed most for corn and could help growers significantly improve yields in 104, he speculates.

Will state's soybean acres go 1.6 million acres or higher?

Other grain crops were more severely impacted by the record rainfall in some parts of the Southeast.  Soybeans in particular were generally planted later than ideal and many double-crop beans were planted from mid to late July and a few even into August.

Charles Hall, executive director of the North Carolina Soybean Growers Association, says the late-planted beans held the state soybean yield average down significantly from the record 39 bushels per acre recorded in 2012.

“We expect when all is said and done with last year’s crop, growers will probably average 30 to 32 bushels per acre. While not a great year yield-wise, 2013 certainly won’t go down as a disaster, which some people predicted because of the late planting date for so much of our crop,” Hall says.

Jim Dunphy, soybean specialist at N.C. State, says there were a few reports of late-planted beans yielding really well, but that was the exception not the rule. For the most part, he says, the research-proven recommendations on yield drag for beans planted much after July 1 proved accurate last year.

Dunphy agrees that the conventional soybean crop, which comprises about half the annual 1.5 or so million acres of soybeans planted in North Carolina, did well last year in most parts of the state.

Hall says most growers were pleasantly surprised by the continuation of good soybean prices last year, which has left most with a lot of optimism about the 2014 planting season.

“I believe we will again be in the 1.6 million acre-range next year. Depending on weather and price at corn and cotton planting time, we could see that go as high as 1.7 million acres,” Hall says.

Dan Weathington, executive director of the North Carolina Small Grain Growers Association, says the 2012-2013 wheat crop in the state had the highest yield potential of any wheat crop he’s seen in more the 35 years of looking at grain crops. Rain from late winter until harvest time hammered the wheat crop and in many cases prevented harvest.

Farmers planted about 950,000 acres of wheat in North Carolina last year and ended up harvesting close to 900,000 acres, he notes.

Despite all the weather-related problems and delays, North Carolina growers produced 52.4 million bushels of wheat, up significantly from the three-year average. The average yield for last year’s crop was 57 bushels per acre, down three bushels per acre from the three-year average.

North Carolina growers also planted a record 100,000 acres of grain sorghum last year. The rains and subsequent disease pressure knocked out about 25,000 acres, but that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for grain sorghum among the states small grain growers, Weathington contends.

“We have a big market for wheat and other small grains for livestock feed in North Carolina. If you want evidence of how significant this market can be, the state imported about 30 million bushels of off-shore wheat last year,” he concludes.

The year 2013 was a record one for many grain growers in the Upper Southeast, in a bad kind of way.  One-hundred-year records for rainfall were broken in sporadic areas of the region and crops in the entire region were held back by long periods of wet weather, plus longer periods of cloudy weather.

By all accounts, most growers consider this a once in a lifetime occurrence and will be driven by cropping rotations, input costs and price in making grain planting decisions for 2014.

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