“We’ll see increased competition from South America, with Argentina planting more acres, although dry weather also has affected them.”

There is the potential, said Smith, to plant 94 to 95 million acres in the U.S. in 2012. “I think we can probably keep corn acres where they are in Georgia, especially if we’re in a LaNiña weather pattern, during which corns yields historically are better. This past year will be encouraging for planting corn.”

December futures, he said, ended at about $5.59 during the second week of January.

“If we end up with a big crop, planting 4 or 5 million more acres, and we see good growing conditions in the Midwest, we’ll probably start testing a bottom of about $5.35 per bushel, and if it goes below that level, then we’ll probably see prices more in the $5-range than the $5.50 to $6-range.”

If you get your corn harvested early, said Smith, it’ll probably bring a premium. You can contract corn now for $5.75 to $6, depending on the area of the state, he added.

“It’s a hard decision to decide when to price. But you do need to go ahead and make a budget. You make good decisions if you know your costs, and you’ll know what price you need to make for a return.”

Given the current outlook, growers could see prices anywhere from $4 to $8 on corn this year, he said. 

“That’s a wide range. Our best estimate is around $6, considering where the market is now. Lock in some of those inputs whenever you lock in prices, because input prices are as volatile as crop prices.”

University of Georgia budgets show corn production costs going up from 7 to 10 percent, said Smith. Fertilizer is the highest cost, followed by seed.

“We’re getting back up to where the costs were in 2008-2009. With the yield potential that’s out there, we raised our average yield in our budgets this year to 200 bushels. We’ve got a long ways to go, so you probably don’t want to overdo contracting, but this is probably a year when you want to do some contracting.”

Looking at all budgets — from a cost and returns standpoint — peanuts come out ahead this year, based on $700-per-ton contracts, followed by corn and cotton, he said.