News Column

Area farmers dealing with dry, hot conditions, lower crop prices

July 27, 2014

By Gene Zaleski, The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C.

July 27--Relatively dry and hot conditions as well as lower crop prices are challenges facing T&D Region row crop farmers this year as the early corn harvest approaches.

"We really need some rain for all of the crops in the county," Orangeburg County Clemson Extension Agent Jonathan Croft said. "Some areas are hurting worse than others."

Calhoun County Clemson Extension Agent Charles Davis said crops this year were greeted with a wetter and warmer spring.

"Periods of above-average rainfall are not what farmers would like to see, as they interfere with normal field operations such as planting, spraying and harvesting," Davis said. "Warmer than normal temperatures tend to increase insect activity and hastens their maturity, making control more difficult and making timely application of insect control measures more critical."

Corn

Dryland corn has been particularly hard hit this year due to high temperatures and spotty rainfall, Croft said.

"Yield loss on corn is going to be fairly high in some particular fields," he said. "I expect a better irrigated crop than last year and an average- to below-average dryland crop."

Early corn will be harvested the last week of July and the first week of August.

Eddie Ott has farmed for the past 15 years with his brother, Coy. The men have fields in Calhoun and Orangeburg counties.

This year they are growing about 700 acres of corn with 200 under irrigation.

"Compared to last year, the irrigated corn is much better," Ott said. "Last year, every bit of fertilizer we put to it leached out. We could not get enough nitrogen to produce a good crop."

The dryland crop is also better this year.

"It was so wet last year we did not plant about 200 acres," Ott said.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, Ott said the crop looks like it will be a 7 to 8.

Davis predicts overall dryland corn will be fair to poor at 60 to 100 bushels, with irrigated corn being between 180 to 220 bushels.

Croft said with corn about $4 per bushel, which is much lower than the historic highs seen a few years ago, farmers would have to make about 123 bushels per acre on dryland corn to cover the cost of production.

Farmers will need to have about 177 bushels per acre on their irrigated corn to break even, Davis said.

"It would be good to see corn prices back in at least the $5 to $6 range," Croft said.

Davis said, "A lot of corn farmers will lose money on corn this year."

The low prices are due, in part, to the reduced demand for the ethanol market, reductions in feed requirements due to weather conditions and the anticipation of an abundant supply by the marketplace, Davis said.

Cotton

Like corn, cotton conditions are varied. Those fields getting rain are reaping the benefits.

"There are areas in Orangeburg County where cotton is suffering from drought, and growth and yield potential are starting to be affected," Croft said. But more rain and good harvest conditions can still bring in an average to above-average crop for cotton farmers this year.

Rain is even more critical now that the crop is in boll stage, he said.

The Ott farm has about 1,000 acres of dryland cotton.

"Cotton looks good," Ott said. "It was getting critical before we got this rain."

He said their Elloree fields received about 1-{ inches of rain and the Eutawville and Holly Hill areas received about 3 inches of rain July 15.

"That made a difference," Ott said. "It really started to suffer. It has good potential but we have a ways to go."

Last year, a lot his cotton fields were drowned out because of the near-record rainfalls.

Davis said the next six to eight weeks are important for cotton farmers.

"A lot, both good and bad, can happen," he said.

Cotton farmers in the county typically receive about 1,000 pounds of lint per acre, Davis said. Cotton prices also have dropped off this year to about 68 to 73 cents per pound compared to last year's 80-cent range.

"This is the lowest it has been in the last couple of years," Croft said. "Most likely, stock-to-use ratio has gotten so that we have more cotton in storage across the world than we are consuming due to a decline in use."

Croft said it would be nice to see prices in the middle to upper 80-cent range.

"That would give the farmers a chance to cover all costs and make some profit on cotton," he said.

Davis said with production costs in the neighborhood of $550 per acre, 1,000 pounds of lint will return about $700 per acre.

"This will make up for some of the money lost on the corn crop," Davis said. "A price of at least 57 cents per pound is needed to break even on a 1,000-pound cotton crop."

Peanuts

The peanut crop looks like it could be average to above average.

"There are a few areas that dry conditions are affecting the growth of peanuts, hurting early pegging and lowering yield potential," Croft said.

"Peanuts probably look the best of all the crops in Calhoun County at this time," Davis said. "Peanuts are just beginning to move into heavy pod set so the resumption of regular rainfall is a must."

"The battle for peanut farmers up until now has been weed control," he said. "From here on out, it will be disease management."

A large supply has lowered peanut contract prices to about $475 per ton for runners and $535 per ton for Virginia-type peanuts.

Davis said if farmers receive about 3,000 pounds of peanuts per acre, they will just break even on dryland and will lose money on irrigated land.

"Farmers have to manage for high yields to stay in the peanut market at these prices," he said.

Peanut contract prices are set by the buyers and are influenced by supply, demand and import/export opportunities.

Soybeans

There are some patches of soybeans that could also use some rain, Croft said.

"Soybeans range in age from early pod set to very early vegetative growth," he said.

Davis said on average, yields are typically between 40 bushels to 50 bushels per acre.

The Otts planted about 1,200 acres of dryland soybeans.

"We got close to 900 acres of ... early maturity beans," he said. "They were suffering bad before we got rain."

He said the late planted beans behind wheat have a "good stand."

"We are in better shape (compared to last year)," he said. "Last year we had 600 acres of beans we could not get planted because it was so wet."

At a per bushel price of about $11.85, Croft said soybean growers will have to make about 30 bushels per acre to break even and see a little profit from their work.

The last few years, soybean prices reached a $15.50 high.

"Production costs average around $330 per acre, so an average yield of 35 bushels at $11 per bushel is $55 per acre profit, not counting land rent, tractor costs, etc. So basically, (it's) a break-even situation, if not a small loss," Davis said.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551.

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(c)2014 The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, S.C.)

Visit The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, S.C.) at thetandd.com

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