Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama are all among the top poultry producing states.

North Carolina is second in hog production and Virginia is home to Smithfield Farms, the largest hog producing company in the world.

Keeping these industries viable in the Southeast in the long-term is highly dependent on the region being able to grow more grain for feed.

The big questions are: Why are corn yields not increasing to national levels and what can be done to push yields up closer to national averages?

Jerry Stoller, founder and owner of Stoller Enterprises, has spent most of his professional life trying to figure out the many interactions among seed, plants, soil and the environment. He has some interesting theories about crop production in the Southeast.

“The major reasons for the lack of consistent yield increases in the Southeastern United States are primarily due to high temperatures during the period of pollination or flowering on corn, soybeans, and other crops.

“In addition, Southeastern soils do not have the moisture holding capacity to guarantee the quantity of water needed to cool the plant leaves during periods of pollination or flowering during and during the grain filling period thereafter, Stoller says.

 

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“Growers in the Southeast must learn to treat their plants in order to maintain good pollination during the flowering or tasseling period, even though the temperatures are higher than ideal.

“Also, farmers in the Southeast must learn how to treat their plants in order to enable them to use water more effectively internally in the plant’s cells. It does not take as much soil moisture to increase or maintain yields if the plant cells can generate enough internal water to continue a normal rate of photosynthesis.”

Stoller says, “Using the present technology, long-term yield increases will be approximately 1 percent per year. New technology must be employed if these yields are going to increase.”

Long-term, much more than the Southeast livestock industry is at risk from continuing on the current path of crop yield increases.

A look a 50-year trend lines for global production of calories and a similar look at global consumption of calories, projected into the future, provides some seemingly valid scientific certainties that farmers won’t be able to produce enough food to provide enough calories to feed the world by the time Planet Earth’s population reaches nine billion people.

Irrigation is considered to be a critical factor in raising corn yields, and indeed, researchers in Georgia found in a multi-year study that corn yields under irrigation more than doubled dryland acreage (152 to 73 bushels per acre).

However, last year, on a crop that features the highest percentage of irrigation in the Southeast, Georgia corn growers only averaged 114 bushels per acre.

Stoller says, “Most people are recommending the installation of irrigation systems. Although this might satisfy the requirements for water, it will not satisfy the plant’s need to be protected against high temperatures during the period of pollination and flower fertility.”

Even if irrigation alone could solve the Southeast’s grain deficiency problem, running out of potable water from over-use of irrigation could be a more pressing problem than running out of food.

“The bottom line is we have to produce more food without depleting our water supply. Raising grain yields to more than double current levels is not a futuristic pipedream, Stoller says.

Rather it’s a matter of changing a long-standing approach to protecting crops and hoping for increased yields.

“The current genetic potential contained in the seed will enable maximum yields on corn to be greater than 500 bushel per acre.