Corn prices are more than $4 a bushel on the futures market and that has many Alabama farmers considering planting more acres of the grain this year.
Bob Goodman, an economist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says while the potential for better earnings exists, farmers should look before they leap.
“It's critical that farmers consider the venture from planting all the way through harvest,” says Goodman. “It will take a lot more effort than merely planting seed to reap more money.”
Consider the strategies of two row-crop producers from the Wiregrass.
Thomas Kirkland of Dale County will be planting 75 acres of corn this year — the first corn he's planted in several years. Kirkland has made his plans, and his strategies are in place now well before he will plant the first seed.
“I'm planting on the 75 acres that I have got irrigation on,” says Kirkland. “Dryland corn is awfully risky. Look at the weather last summer.
“I have already booked my crop for a good price to a company who produces poultry feed. In the fall, I know exactly where and when my harvested crop is going.”
Kirkland has already ordered his seed, but perhaps even more important, he has his harvesting and drying plans set.
“I don't have a corn combine so I've already worked out an arrangement with a custom harvest operation to get my corn out of the field. I'm going to haul the corn to my co-op and have them dry it for me.”
Wayne Woodham who also farms in Dale County will be planting fewer acres of corn than he did last year. Even his wife is questioning that decision.
“She says everyone is planting more, corn why aren't we?” says Woodham. “I haven't sold my crop yet so I may need to store it on the farm. I can store between 150 and 200 acres worth of corn in my current on-farm facilities. If I plant more and have to wait to sell it in late fall or early winter, how am I supposed to store it?”
Like Kirkland, he has bought seed and has his harvest plans in order. He will do his own harvesting with his corn combine and dry the corn on his farm.
While the two farmers are taking different approaches, Goodman says they are alike in one critical way.
“Both these men have thoroughly reviewed and considered every element of the production process. They have factored in elements unique to their individual operations and have made their production decisions accordingly.”
Goodman says harvest, transport and storage capacity will be limiting factors on this year's corn crop not only in the Wiregrass but statewide.
“Corn acreage has been down in the state for about the last 10 years,” says Goodman. “A lot of these farmers don't own corn combines and a lot don't have on-farm storage facilities.”
Farm equipment representatives say if a farmer were to place an order for a new corn combine now, the earliest it could be delivered would be next fall well after normal harvest time. They say used equipment can be found no closer than the Midwest — increasing delivery costs.
Storage is the other critical factor.
Goodman says if farmers have not sold their crop for delivery in September or October, they will have to store the grain. The question is where.
“Because of falling acreages, many of the grain bins and corn storage facilities have been abandoned. A real possible problem is that we have more grain harvested than we have capacity to store.”