The Carolinas and Virginia have plenty of hungry livestock mouths to feed and grain growers in the tri-state area did their part in 2012 to fill them with locally grown corn, soybeans, wheat and grain sorghum.

Feed makes up about 70 percent of the cost of feeding livestock, and historically the bulk of this feed has been corn, most of it sent to North Carolina by rail from the Midwest.

With corn prices up to $8 per bushel for much of the year and transportation costs going up to record levels, large livestock integrators are left to ponder the reality of continuing in the livestock business in the region.

North Carolina ranks second in the nation in swine production and it is consistently among the top three poultry producing states in the country.

Add to the equation a long-standing beef cattle industry and a growing aquaculture industry, both with demand for grain for feed, and there is a major shortfall in what is available in the state and region.

There are about 2,200 hog farmers in the state, and about 2,500 poultry farmers.

Hog farmers felt the pinch of high corn prices first, but the state’s booming poultry industry is now feeling the full effect of the high value and scarcity of U.S.-grown corn. 

As the 2011 corn is depleted and last year’s corn, at this year’s prices begin to become reality, the high cost of feeding livestock is almost certain to continue.

(You might also be interested in reading Future of Southeast livestock industry depends on local grain).

Henry Moore, who has 5,000 sows on his farm in Sampson County, N.C., says, “We’ve known for a long time that something like this was coming.”

Moore, who sits on the boards of the North Carolina Pork Council and the National Pork Board, says he has watched closely as ethanol production has taken more of the nation’s corn crop, while stockpiles of corn have been allowed to dwindle, both reckless policies he contends.

“We knew if we had one really bad drought — and we knew we would have one eventually — we’d be in trouble. We’ve been living on borrowed time,” he says.

The ‘grain basin’ for North Carolina’s livestock industry, including North Carolina, upper South Carolina and southeast Virginia continues to ramp up their respective production efforts.

The expected decrease in cotton and peanut acreage, both traditional crops in the region, will likely contribute something close to 200,000 acres of farmland available for grain production in 2013 in the tri-state area.

Advances in crop production technologies both by industry, and by outstanding leadership among Extension grain specialists in the three states, will no doubt keep production on the incline, if Mother Nature cooperates.

How much the grain industry can do, and at what cost to the livestock industry remains to be seen.

Historically, farmers produce what’s profitable and right now grain crops are the hot ticket. For the livestock industry in the region, feeding more local grain may be tantamount to continuing to do business in the Upper Southeast.