Grain sorghum acreage in North Carolina jumped more than 10-fold from 2011 to 2012, and wheat acreage in the state is expected to reach an all-time high with the 2012-2013 crop.

Despite the momentum, many growers still wonder: Are the big grain buyers in this for the long-term?

Warsaw, N.C.-based Murphy-Brown is the largest grain buyer in the Upper Southeast, and its parent company Smithfield Foods, headquartered in Smithfield, Va., is the largest pork producer in the world.

Both companies have been instrumental in re-kindling an interest among growers to grow grain sorghum and in promoting educational programs that are helping growers improve grain yields in the company’s primary basin for local grains: North Carolina, northern South Carolina, and southeast Virginia.

Increasing local production of feed grains is absolutely critical to the future of the livestock industry in the Southeast, and Murphy-Brown is committed to long-term sustainability of grain production in the Upper Southeast, says Terry Coffey, chief science & technology Officer.

Coffey has worked in the livestock industry for most of his professional career, first as a professor at North Carolina State University and since the early 1990s with Murphy-Brown.

He says that changes in the feed production and distribution end of the business in the past few years have put producers in the Southeast in a tough spot when it comes to competing with other parts of the U.S.

Prior to 2007-2008, the cost of getting corn from the Midwest to livestock facilities in the Carolinas and Virginia was about 65 cents per bushel — just for transportation, basis and delivery.

Now, those same costs are $1.15 a bushel, and at some times during the 2012 grain production season, these costs hit $1.40 a bushel.

“We used to be able to offset that 65 cent per bushel cost by blending fat from fast food restaurants and other sources into our diets,” Coffey says.

“Now, demand for the same fat has pushed prices to levels that make it less economically beneficial in livestock rations. And, now, we’re not trying to offset 65 cents, but sometimes $1.40 per bushel of grain,” he adds.

The use of more and more corn for ethanol has been blamed for pushing corn prices higher. More ethanol means more dried distiller grains and solubles (DDGS), a by-product of ethanol production and a good source of feed for some livestock producers.

Getting DDGS to hog operations in the Southeast is more expensive in some cases than corn, because it isn’t practical to regularly fill 90 boxcars, which is the magic number for lowering rail costs.