Many growers across South Carolina have felt like they were on a roller coaster ride during the last two years, but smoother times are around the corner, according to a leading commodities broker.
Edgar Woods of Palmetto Grain Brokerage in Ridgeland, S.C., told visitors to a recent Clemson University Pee Dee Research and Education Center Farm Field Day that recent price fluctuations are likely to stabilize over the course of the year.
For example, the average price of corn across the Southeast has jumped from $3.40 a bushel to a high of $8 a bushel during the last 12 months, Woods said. While “the price situation isn't going to go away over night,” Woods said he expects prices to settle in the $4.50 to $5.50 a bushel range.
The price swings are fueled, in part, by the demand for corn as the quest for alternatives to oil gathers pace. During the last three years alone, growers have “stolen” 7.5 million acres of cotton production for corn, Woods said.
The markets will remain volatile, and effective risk management is vital for all growers, he said, but there will be opportunities.
“It's been a wild ride,” Woods said. “High prices cure high prices — that's usually how the market works.”
At the Pee Dee field day, more than 200 people learned there is more to biofuels than corn, and there's more to the Pee Dee research center than biofuels.
The center opened its 2,300 acres to the public who learned about crops ranging from peanuts and cotton to soybeans and tobacco.
Clemson Agronomist James Frederick, who studies the science and technology of utilizing plants for food and fuel, among other applications, demonstrated that the switchgrass plant has an important role to play in the search for new fuels.
Switchgrass is a native perennial plant that lives for 10 to 15 years and can grow up to 9 feet tall. Historically, switchgrass has been used as a forage, hay and silage crop, but more recently has taken on a new role.
Not least because it is one of the most drought-tolerant warm-season grasses. Switchgrass also is high in cellulose and hemicellulose, and relatively low in lignin — which makes for good conversion to ethanol.
Frederick said the future of biofuels is likely a combined effort of numerous crops, which includes corn, switchgrass and soybeans.
“There's no magic bullet,” Frederick said. Biofuels is a burgeoning industry in South Carolina, He then added that Clemson's turfgrass research at Pee Dee serves one much older: Golf.
Clemson Plant Pathologist Bruce Martin demonstrated how his bermudagrass summer disease control program studies the effects of chronic diseases such as spring dead spot and bipolaris leaf spots on the health and quality of turfgrass.
Martin stressed that quick and accurate diagnosis, such as utilizing the Clemson Commercial Turfgrass Clinic, can help save golf courses, athletic fields and other applications from ruin.
And in a month that celebrates the state's farmers markets, South Carolina Department of Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers asked the visitors to “eat local for a day.”
Weathers encouraged consumers to buy local produce and urged growers to embrace what he called “Main Street agriculture.”
“You've got to connect with the consumer,” he said. “Together we can make agriculture a vital and profitable industry in South Carolina.”