Last year, North Carolina corn growers shattered an all-time yield record averaging 142 bushels per acre. Virginia and South Carolina produced big crops despite weather-related problems. Growers likely will need to stay on that high-yield trend to make corn profitable in the coming years.

Virginia corn growers averaged 145 bushels per acre last year. The 29 percent increase in corn production in Virginia mirrors the national increase of 28 percent over the 2012 crop. Corn acreage was up 5 percent to 345,000 acres in South Carolina. Historic rainfall in the southern end of the state kept statewide yields down slightly from the record shattering 2012 crop.

“Last year was a big year for corn in North Carolina,” says North Carolina State University corn specialist Ronnie Heiniger.  “Most of our farmers made a profit on corn and we provided an extra 68 million bushels of corn for our livestock industry.”

North Carolina corn producers planted a near-record 870,000 acres last year. Increased acreage, yield and price provided an all-time record value for the 2013 crop.

However, the limiting factor for corn acreage in the Upper Southeast won’t likely be the weather in 2014. It will be lower corn prices.

“Last year we broke a record with 142 bushels per acre, and at $7 a bushel, most growers made a good profit. However, with the cost of corn production continually going higher, if a grower produces 142 bushels per acre in 2014, they will need to have corn prices of $4.78 a bushel just to break even,” Heiniger said.

Minus land costs, it takes about $500 per acre to grow corn in North Carolina. Dave Fogel, vice-president of Advance Trading, speaking at the North Carolina All Commodities Conference, says he doesn’t see much change in corn price up or down from the $4.50 to $5 range for the next few months.

If such price projections prove accurate, Virginia-Carolina corn producers will have to ramp up yield to stay profitable. There is no doubt that there are significant differences in planning a corn crop that sells for $7 per bushel versus one that sells for less than $5 per bushel.

Maintaining a good rotation and other production factors have to be considered, but Heiniger contends growers who don’t feel confident they can grow more than 100 bushels of corn per acre should probably look at growing other crops.

Price and corn acreage will likely be closely calculated right up until planting time. If the price goes up, so will corn acreage most likely. If the price stays in the $5-per-bushel range, corn acres will likely remain close to 2013 levels, with some decrease. If corn prices dip very far into the $4, corn acreage could drop significantly across the Upper Southeast.