Published on 02/28/02

Corn Growers Weigh Reaffirming Checkoff

Photo: Keith Weller, USDA/ARS

Not all corn is alike, and not all corn research is specific to Georgia farmers' crops. The state's corn growers vote in March on whether to keep the means for local grower-funded research.

Georgia corn growers will vote in March on whether to reaffirm the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Corn for three more years.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture sends out ballots to each corn grower in the state. Growers vote March 1-30.

The commission manages checkoff funds used mainly for corn research in Georgia, said Dewey Lee, an Extension Service agronomist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Corn Checkoff

The corn checkoff was established in 1996. To support it, farmers pay 1 cent per bushel of corn sold. To be re-established, it must have a two-thirds majority vote.

"If a grower hasn't received a ballot by the end of the first week in March," Lee said, "the grower should contact the Department of Agriculture or the local county Extension Service office."

Georgia grows only about 6 percent to 7 percent of the U.S. corn crop, Lee said. Because of this small amount, corn research is done mainly in the Midwest, the hub of U.S. production.

But some things work for Midwest corn growers that don't work for Georgia growers, Lee said, and vice versa. The only way to know what works and what doesn't, in many cases, is through research.

Corn is a major crop for many Georgia farmers, Lee said. And many corn-related issues are specific to Georgia.

Corn Problems

Drought still hovers over much of Georgia. Corn is particularly susceptible to drought and can be costly to grow during dry times.

The U.S. Southeast is vulnerable to aflatoxin infection, too. A fungus that attacks the plant causes aflatoxin, which can be harmful if consumed. It's not a big problem in the Midwest, but it's a major marketing issue for Georgia growers. Nobody wants to buy corn infected with aflatoxin.

To stay competitive while fighting drought and aflatoxin, Lee said, Georgia growers have to have alternative farming practices and hardier hybrids.

Some corn research proposals have already been approved for 2002-2003. Scientists will study conservation practices and aflatoxin, breed and test hybrids adapted to Georgia and monitor irrigation and drought-related problems. Other educational programs and technical support for overall corn improvement will also be funded.

Widely Grown

Corn is more widely grown than any other crop in Georgia. Almost every county has some corn acreage. In 1997, the state's farmers grew 500,000 acres, valued at $159.5 million. Growers averaged about 110 bushels per acre that year.

In 2001, Georgia corn acreage decreased to about 220,000 acres. However, despite continued drought, farmers produced record yields -- about 134 bushels per acre.

Farmers will begin planting this season's corn crop in March. Corn is a major crop for many Georgia farmers, Lee said, and many corn-related issues are specific to Georgia.

Due to lagging prices for other farm commodities, Lee expects farmers to plant more of the crop this year.

"Corn acreage could be up as much as 30 percent," he said.

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