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Corn acreage increase means run on popular varieties

Mid-South corn seed sales — at least for the top varieties — are torrid and expected to remain so through planting.

“There’s no question that farmers who have waited to book corn seed are having trouble finding the varieties they want,” says David Lanclos, LSU AgCenter corn specialist. “The demand has exceeded what’s available and that’s true all over the Mid-South.”

Having just visited a Morrilton, Ark.-area co-op that sells seed to many farmers in the Arkansas River Valley, Jason Kelley says he’s hearing much the same.

“The folks in the co-op say the same thing as most everyone else: lots of corn seed is being sold,” says the Arkansas Extension corn specialist. “Farmers can still get corn seed. However, in most instances, it won’t be their first, second, or even third seed choice. Good varieties are still available, although maybe not the exact ones they want.

“If you look at the price of corn currently, it’s at a much different level than a year ago. Back then, grain prices weren’t very good and other crops looked more attractive.”

Last year, some 190,000 acres of corn were harvested in Arkansas. That was down quite a bit from previous years.

“Last spring, trying to drum up business, there were seed companies letting corn seed go very cheap,” says Kelley. “There was even a fair amount given away.

“This year, things have totally reversed. There’s been a stampede for seed corn. Prices for corn, while not at historic highs, are very close to 10-year highs. It’s a much rosier picture for the crop.”

As winter meetings move into high gear, Lanclos is often asked about Louisiana’s projected corn acreage.

“Largely it will depend on the planting season. Now, there’s a ton of corn that’s been booked so there are many intending to plant it.

“But if the planting season conditions aren’t right, the farmers won’t extend the planting window into late April. Not when there are other good cropping options like grain sorghum or soybeans available.

“So I’m expecting an acreage increase with corn. Last year we hit 330,000 acres of corn. It would be very easy to envision a 100,000 acre jump from that in Louisiana. And if things break right, we’ll be at 500,000 acres.”

Many observers say Arkansas could end up with a similar acreage total.

“There are many growers planning to plant corn that usually don’t,” says Kelley. “From what I’m hearing there’s even substantial cotton acreage that will shift to corn.

“I spoke with a grower a few days ago. Normally, he grows about 500 to 600 acres of corn. In 2007, he’ll put corn on about 1,500 acres — most of it coming out of cotton acreage. In other areas of the state, soybeans will give way to corn.

“I don’t think much rice acreage will shift. I know of a few situations with rice being grown on sandier ground that isn’t the best for rice. Some of that type of land will be put in corn. Of course, there are many people saying the rice acreage will be down and that’s probably true.”

How might more corn impact the trend to plant earlier?

“Here it is Jan. 5,” says Kelley. “Within 60 days, I expect the southern tier of counties in the state to have a lot of corn going in.

“Last year there was some very, very early corn. An unusually warm, dry February and March contributed to that. And so far, this entire winter has been rather dry and warm. That sets up a similar scenario as last year. If it’s dry during the first few days of March, I expect some farmers in southeast Arkansas to be in the field going hard.”

When confronted with extremely early planting, Lanclos’ response “is to ask, ‘What do you need to get in so early for?’ If it’s for tillage or burndown, that’s perfectly legitimate. But I don’t want to recommend planting any earlier. That’s especially true with the current seed shortage. You can’t make a mistake during planting season because the re-planting options won’t be as attractive. Take a cautious approach.”

Kelley expects the Delta region of Arkansas to have the biggest increase in corn.

“A couple of farmers I know — one in the Delta, one in southwest Arkansas — plan to grow over 5,000 acres or corn. But the biggest acreage shift appears to be set up for the Delta.

“I attended three farmer meetings before Christmas. From what I’ve gathered, it seems a substantial number have already sold a big portion of their corn. Maybe they sold it for $3.50 or $3.75 per bushel. Put a pencil to that, assuming they can get close to 200 bushels per acre, and that’s a good financial return.”

In the past few years, producers have seen $10 or $15 input costs as prohibitive. Now, says Kelley, “They’re much more willing to spend money on inputs to get the yields.”

Logistical questions are also on the front burner in Louisiana. With beans and corn ready for harvest at the same time, how will elevators handle the rush?

“I’m not so worried about that as long as barge traffic is running well,” says Lanclos. “But if we get into a situation where the river level drops and the barges can’t be loaded as they need to be, we could get jammed up.”

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