Published on 03/24/05

Geogia corn farmers kick off new growing season

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia corn farmers have started planting the first rows of this year's growing season. But it's costing them more to do it.

Beginning the first week in March, corn is usually the first row crop planted in Georgia, said Dewey Lee, an agronomist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

South Geogia is one of the first places to plant corn in the United States each year. As the weather warms, the planting trend gradually moves north until it reaches the Midwest and North in late spring.

Georgia farmers planted about 335,000 acres of corn last year. But they'll probably plant less this year, Lee said, because the prices for seed and fertilizer have risen dramatically.

Genetically modified seed help farmers battle weeds, insects and diseases without having to spend money on certain insecticides and herbicides. They increase yields, too, Lee said.

But the price for this seed has risen by as much as 60 percent since last year. The seed costs farmers about $20 more per acre, said Nathan Smith, an economist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

Driven by higher fuel prices, Smith said, fertilizer costs more, too. This spring, farmers are paying about 30 percent more for it. Fertilizing corn cost farmers $105 per acre 18 months ago. It takes $140 per acre today.

Georgia corn growers averaged harvesting 130 bushels per acre last year, the second highest yields on record. Timely June rains helped. The crop was harvested before September's four damaging hurricanes, too.

The state's farmers grow much less corn than it uses each year, Lee said. Most of the crop is used for animal feed. Georgia's multibillion-dollar poultry industry buys much of it during winter, when severe weather restrains transportation from the Midwest.

One row crop is still in Georgia fields from last year's season: about 300,000 acres of wheat that was planted last November.

The wheat crop is having problems with the recent moist weather, Lee said. Powdery mildew and a soil-borne virus could hurt yields before harvest in May. Georgia wheat farmers historically average 45-50 bushels per acre.

"If the weather would dry out, it would really help the wheat respond well," he said. "But what wheat doesn't need now is more rain."

Ironically, corn growers want rain now, he said, but not too much. Newly-planted corn seeds need moisture to germinate.

Georgia farmers sell most of their wheat to mills in Georgia, where it's turned into flour, he said. Many farmers have also started selling the wheat straw for landscape mulch and erosion control.

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