Published on 03/13/01

Georgia Corn Growers' Outlook Brighter

Georgia farmers face another year of severe drought, and the prices of many major commodities remain low. But the long rows ahead look a little better for corn growers, says a University of Georgia expert.

Recent rains have corn farmers "full throttle" putting one of this year's first row-crops into the ground, said Dewey Lee, an Extension Service agronomist with UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Better Prices

Due to the oversupply of corn over the past few years, farmers got low prices for their crops. But corn prices have the potential to strengthen this year, Lee said.

More corn was sold than produced in the United States last year. This reduced the oversupply stock and strengthened prices. Lee said the trend should continue this year.

Farmers had above-average production last year and still sold more corn than they could grow. If this year is just an average year, the U.S. should again sell more corn than is grown. This would further reduce the oversupply stock and strengthen prices.

Better Prices at Higher Cost

"The growers are facing a little better price environment this year," Lee said. "But they're having to spend a little bit more money on growing the crop."

Nitrogen is the main fertilizer used in producing Georgia's $84 million corn crop. The price of natural gas, which is used to manufacture nitrogen, has increased. So nitrogen prices have risen, too, by as much as 12 cents per pound.

The nitrogen price increase will add as much as $30 per acre to some farmers' costs, Lee said. Though corn prices look better than last year, farmers still face a narrow profit margin on the crop.

Nothing Without Water

To grow corn, you've got to have water. "Whether it comes from the sky or irrigation," Lee said, "you've got to have it."

The impending drought will cause problems for corn farmers. Drought conditions have hit southwest and east Georgia severely. In these two regions, a farmer has little chance of producing profitable yields without irrigation. In many cases last year, farmers abandoned entire fields of dryland corn, Lee said.

Most irrigation systems use diesel fuel, he said. The increase in diesel fuel cost will add additional overhead to corn farmers.

Planting About the Same

Heavy rains fell over most of the state the first week of March. Some areas received as much as 3 to 4 inches. This timely rain fell as most corn farmers where planting their crop.

Farmers who grow corn like to go ahead and get the corn crop in the ground and fertilized before it's time to plant cotton and peanuts, Lee said. Sometimes they plant a little too early. Corn that was planted in late-February runs the risk of freeze damage.

Low temperatures in Georgia hovered around freezing in the first week of March. Any damage to the emerging corn crop is yet to be determined, Lee said.

Despite the encouraging rains and prices, Lee said corn farmers this year will plant about the same amount of land as last year, about 350,000 acres.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.