Georgia corn acreage fluctuates from year to year, but this past year, it was the No. 3 crop grown in the state, with a value of about $200 million, he said. Nearly 70 percent of Georgia’s corn is irrigated.

“Last year, we increased acreage in the state, with 345,000 acres planted. Harvested acres were reduced down to 270,000 acres, so that raised our yield to a record-high 158 bushels per acre.”

Last year’s LaNiña weather trends resulted in record-high corn yields, he said. “But the trend was different in the United States. After a record-high yield year, we’ve seen two consecutive years of lower trend yields in U.S. corn, and that has helped to keep prices strong.”

The question on growers’ minds is what’ll happen this year, said Smith. “We’ve increased acres to about 92 million acres planted in the U.S. for 2011, and we’ll probably see that number go up again this year.”

Turning to the domestic supply and demand situation, Smith said it’s still relatively tight, even with reports that less corn was being fed than expected.

“Again, our production is below what total consumption is estimated to be, so it’ll bring stocks down to a historically low stocks-to-use ratio. Fundamentally, that’s still positive for corn. At the end of this past December and the first part of January, the ethanol blenders’ tax credit and the tariff that was a barrier to ethanol imports both expired.”

Ethanol as a use for corn now has exceeded the amount of corn used as feed, with about 40 percent of the corn produced now being used for ethanol production, he said.

“About one-third of that ends up back in the feed category as distiller’s grain. In the long-term, we might see imports of sugar cane ethanol but not immediately. We’re also exporting ethanol to South America, and that’ll continue.”

In examining the cash prices for corn and soybeans, Smith said soybeans maxed at about $13 per bushel in 2008, and then again in 2011, while corn went up to about $5 to $5.50 per bushel in the same time periods. This past summer, corn pushed $7 in the U.S. cash market.

The Midwest probably will plant another 3 or 4 million acres this year, said Smith, while water availability will remain a big concern for Southern producers.