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Winter crop competition heating up in South CarolinaWinter crop competition heating up in South Carolina

Roy Roberson

November 4, 2011

4 Min Read

It’s no secret the battle for acreage will be intense in the Southeast in spring of 2012, however, a brisk battle is looming in South Carolina over acreage for this fall.

Wheat production in the Palmetto state was near record level in acreage in 2010-2011. Prices for wheat were excellent and the outlook for the 2011-2012 crop are good.  Most experts contend there will be more wheat in 2012.

Another side benefit of a good wheat crop is a good seed supply, both in quantity and quality for the upcoming planting season.  Add to that an early maturing corn and cotton crop, and you have what seems to be the perfect combination of benefits to encourage growers to plant a big wheat crop this fall.

In 2011 the Palmetto state increased wheat acreage by over 60,000 acres to a little more than 200,000 acres. The high value of the crop influenced many growers to put wheat on some of their best land and to apply needed inputs. Combined with good growing conditions, this new-found interest in wheat is likely to produce a record yield when the final tally is in for the 2010-2011 crop.

This fall two new players, flax and canola will be in the running for fall acreage in South Carolina. Neither crop is exactly a staple in the state. However, both come with some interesting financial and production advantages.

Both flax and canola also come with very well known promoters. Whether growers will stick with wheat or convert 30,000-40,000 of the total acreage, as flax and canola combined want, remains to be seen.

Russell Duncan, who for 27 years was an Extension farm agent, is promoting flax in South Carolina. He is well respected for his knowledge of row crop agriculture in the state. And, he knows how to get the attention of growers.

AgStrong, a Georgia-based company that buys and processes canola for oil will be competing for some of the same acreage. The company recently hired Mike Garland, former executive director of the Georgia Seed Commission as their crop development manager. Well known in South Carolina, Garland can make a strong case for canola.

Along with AgStrong founder and CEO Robert Davis, Garland met with a number of South Carolina growers recently to persuade them to plant canola this fall.

AgriStrong needs more canola to provide stock needed to supply their expanded crushing facility in Bowersville, Ga., which is located within spitting distance of the South Carolina line, near Anderson, S.C. The mountains of North Georgia and the Upstate area of south-central South Carolina aren’t well suited to canola production, so the company is looking to more fertile land to the east — the heart of South Carolina’s wheat country.

Though far, far from a science-based survey, the farmers I’ve talked with about growing flax or canola don’t seem too receptive. Their reactions to the question of whether they were planting flax or canola this fall ranged from no to I’ll listen to what they have to say.

Both crops come with some benefits. Flax has few natural pest enemies, doesn’t serve as a winter host for any of the major pests that plague spring row crop production and is relatively easy to grow.

Canola is a rapeseed crop and offers good rotation opportunities for corn, even cotton or peanuts. It’s typically planted in the Southeast in mid-October — maybe a little earlier in South Carolina and is early enough maturing to allow for spring harvest in time for cotton or even peanuts to be planted in May.

The obvious rotation for canola would be corn, canola, cotton; but it does offer growers some interesting flexibility in cropping choices.

Flax is essentially a hay crop. Generally, it requires little time and care to grow. But, it will take plenty of time and care to harvest. Most South Carolina farmers are not going to have the type mowers needed to harvest and process flax.

Both crops come with some hard problems for most South Carolina farmers to handle. Neither works very well on no-till land. Right now, flax is not recommended on minimum-tilled land and canola leaves some difficult to manage stalks that can leave some very unwanted crop-turned-weed problems for growers to deal with in the spring.

But, there is the money.  Davis says canola can be grown in a 3-4 year rotation, so winter wheat continues to be the primary winter crop for most of their contracting farmers. Current contract prices are approximately $11.90 per bushel (50 pounds per bushel). He contends canola yields in South Carolina and Georgia, using their varieties, have been 50 to 70 bushels per acre.

Duncan says the company he is promoting will pay a grower for seed and fiber. If a grower can produce 15 bushels of seed and 2.5 tons of fiber per acre, he should make close to $200 per acre above out of pocket costs.

Obviously, if a grower devotes better land to flax and manages it more carefully, he can produce three tons per acre and 20 bushels of seed per acre, the profit above his out-of-pocket costs may be closer to $300 per acre, Duncan adds.

It’s great to have options and both the fall and spring of 2011-2012 will provide some interesting options for South Carolina growers.

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