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 agronomist.

And corn farmers are “full throttle,” putting this year's first row-crop into the ground, says Dewey Lee, an Extension small grains specialist.

Due to the over-supply of corn the past few years, farmers received low prices for their crops. But corn prices have the potential to strengthen this year, says Lee.

More corn was sold in the United States last year. This lowered the supply and strengthened prices. Lee says the trend should continue this year.

Farmers had above-average production last year and still sold more corn than they could grow. If 2001 is an average year, U.S. farmers again should sell more corn than they grow. This would further strengthen prices.

“The growers are facing a little better price environment this year,” says Lee. “But they're having to spend 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 also have risen, by as much as 12 cents per pound.

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

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

The impending drought could cause problems for 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, says Lee.

Most irrigation systems use diesel fuel, he says, and the increase in the cost of diesel fuel will add additional overhead for corn producers.

Heavy rains fell over most of the state during March, with some areas receiving as much as three to four inches. This timely rain fell as most corn farmers were planting their crop.

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

Georgia farmers who grow corn prefer to go ahead and get the crop into the ground and fertilized before it's time to plant cotton and peanuts, says Lee. Sometimes, they plant too early. Corn that was planted in late February runs the risk of freeze damage.

Low temperatures in Georgia hovered around the freezing mark during the first week of March. Any damage to the emerging corn is yet to be determined, he says.

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