The North Carolina Extension agent contends demand for livestock feed alone may push corn acreage up again this year.

“If you’ve got a tremendous yield plus a high price, the math on that works out real well.  Corn this year could outpace traditional crops like soybeans and cotton in its importance to North Carolina farmers — it’s going to be a really important crop this year,” Pless concludes.

Soybeans have been a crop superstar in North Carolina for the past several years, taking up more than a million acres annually. The downside of soybean production across the Southeast has been yield drag, when compared to more productive states in the Midwest.

The 10-year average for soybeans in North Carolina is 30 bushels per acre. Last year growers produced 39 bushels per acre (an all time record) on 1.58 million acres. Total production last year was up 49 percent to about 62 million bushels.

North Carolina has a growing soybean export market, so how much of the 2013 production will stay in-state and be used for livestock feed is uncertain.

Over half of the soybeans processed for livestock feed in North Carolina is fed to poultry, about one-quarter is fed to swine, and the rest is used for beef cattle, dairy cattle and pet food.

It is expected that nearly a million acres of wheat was planted in the fall of 2012 in North Carolina, which is a double bonus for the state’s livestock industry.

Wheat is a good, at best, substitute for corn in most livestock rations, but is being used as a feed supplement in both the swine and poultry industries in North Carolina.

Timberlake, N.C., hog producer Tim Thomas says he started feeding wheat back in the summer to try to stretch out his corn supply longer.

“We are going to continue feeding wheat and try to stretch corn out throughout the whole season,” Thomas says.

He adds that there appears to be no end to high corn prices and lack of availability, so wheat may become a more frequent component of his livestock rations.

A more indirect, but potentially bigger benefit to livestock growers of having a record wheat crop in the ground is the opportunity for growers to double-crop. Soybeans is by far the most likely double-crop for wheat, but there is growing interest in adding corn and grain sorghum as the second crop.

The increased grain production in 2012 across the Upper Southeast has not put an end to the feed cost woes of the livestock industry in North Carolina, but it continues to chip away at what has at times been a huge grain deficit.