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What a difference a year makes: Kentucky’s 2013 corn crop is ‘good to excellent’ so far

(Photo from Creative Commons)

The National Agriculture Statistics Service says Kentucky’s crop is 58 percent good and 24 percent excellent. (Photo from Creative Commons)


By Tim Thornberry
KyForward correspondent

The corn landscape around Kentucky looks considerably different this year from 2012, thanks to plentiful rains and moderate temperatures.

The latest National Agricultural Statistics Service listed the state’s crop as being 58 percent good and 24 percent excellent. That is a far cry from last year’s report for the same time period when corn was rated as only 33 percent good, and six percent excellent due to record heat and drought.

Chad Lee, a grain crop specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture said there has been a lot of rain throughout the state, which in itself can cause problems, but for the most part the corn crop is doing well.

“At this point our corn crop is good to excellent, and it would be way too soon to make a prediction on what yields are going to be but, even with a lot of corn planted late, we are certainly off to a good start,” he said.

Ray Allan Mackey, president of the Kentucky Corn Grower’s Association said even though it was planted later than last year’s corn this crop is certainly growing well now.

“The planting season has just gone on and on. It’s been hard to get those last fields planted due to the consistent rains we’ve had but our corn crop is planted and we still have a few soybeans to plant,” he said. Mackey raises 2,000 acres of corn along with 1,800 acres of soybeans in Hardin and Larue Counties located just west of the central Bluegrass region.

Even though Mackey planted corn as late as June 8, he said a good follow-through on summer rains will help and he doesn’t have any concerns about yield loss. In fact, the best corn field he had from last year was a field that had been planted late.

“It doesn’t overly deter me about planting that late. Corn, given the right summer weather can complete maturity if planted by then without any problem,” he said. “Every year is different and it depends on what kind of weather we’re handed and how things work out.”

Mackey like so many of his counterparts lost half of his corn yield last year due to the severe weather conditions but a year has made a big difference.

(Photo from Kentucky Corn Growers' Association)

This year’s crop should be ‘really, really good,’ one corn grower said. (Photo from Kentucky Corn Growers’ Association)

“We hope, with this crop, from the looks of it and the moisture that we’ve had, it should be a really, really good crop,” he said.

Mackey said a portion of his crop will pollinate in the next two weeks, something he hopes happens before too much hot weather moves in. If the first few weeks of summer are any indication, the hot weather being experienced in the southwestern part of the country won’t make its way here.

The three month outlook from the National Weather Service indicates an equal chance of normal, above normal and below normal temperatures while above normal precipitation for the region is expected.

With an expected later harvest, Mackey said it may take a little extra drying and handling but that is part of raising a corn crop. He also said that while things are much better this year, he doesn’t think it will be a record crop in Kentucky.

“You have to have population in there in order to make those record-breaking yields but some of the early cold weather we had and some of the rainy weather took out a little bit of our stand, still overall it should be an excellent crop in this area,” said Mackey.

Crop diversity helps

As so many farmers do, having more than one crop only makes sense especially in the event one fails as did a good portion of last year’s corn crop. For many producers who also grew soybeans, Mackey said the beans saved the day.

“Soybeans, last year saved the day for a lot of farmers because we had exceptional soybeans yields with late fall rains that really made an excellent crop so it kind of makes you hopeful for another one,” he said. “This year, the beans have gotten off to a really good start and the tobacco crop looks really good, also. We’ve got a very timely tobacco crop and it’s growing like gangbusters.”

Prices for both grains and tobacco have been good. Last year saw record or near record levels prompting many producers to increase production. But with more crops eventually comes larger stockpiles.

Mackey said farmers can be profitable at these levels but if a bumper corn crop for instance takes surplus stocks over the 1 billion bushel mark, prices would likely fall along with profits.

“If we have a 155 bushel average this year, across America, we may well have over a billion in surplus and prices will probably drop to cost of production at least and maybe even below,” he said. “The cost of production is probably over $5 a bushel at this time and we could drop to those levels if we have a record crop.”

Mackey also said that with the cost of inputs being what they are today, it becomes very important for prices to remain somewhat profitable.

“The affects on the rural economy would be disastrous if prices drop well below the cost of production for very long,” he said.

With that said, Mackey noted that the Corn Growers Association is mindful of that and continually looking for ways to increase or expand markets for corn in many ways be it exports, new uses or livestock feed.

The Farm Bill from a grower’s perspective

Last year proved to be a perfect year to demonstrate how valuable crop insurance is to a farmer. Since then crop insurance has just been one of the topics discussed in Washington related to the Farm Bill. Mackey said it’s important to get a bill passed by the September deadline.

“It’s a must deal for the rural community to have some stabilization with the Farm Bill. Crop insurance made all the difference in the world last year. Farmers were able to pay off their loans, go back to the bank and start again for this year thanks to crop insurance payments,” he said. “We need to get those things in place and we also need to safeguard conservation and emergency programs. Hopefully an agreement will come sometime this summer on the Farm Bill.”

In getting a bill passed – or rather not getting one – Mackey said agriculture across the country is diverse with many interests and commodities to consider.

“It takes cooperation to get all of them thinking together but then yet through the years as food and nutrition have become a major portion of the Farm Bill and requires big expenditures to safeguard the health of Americans as in providing a stable food supply, it’s kind of cumbersome to keep everybody in agreement in how much we’re going to spend on each program,” he said.

Mackey added that in a year of tight budgets and facing some decreasing budgets, it becomes even harder to get all parties to agree.

“I think balancing the budget or trying to keep things in check becomes a priority,” he said.

One huge issue and likely the main issue of the Farm Bill is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and how much of it’s budget will get cut. The Senate bill called for more than $4 billion in cuts from the program while a failed House bill was asking for much more.

The issue has some calling for a separation of SNAP from the Farm Bill altogether. Mackey said with farmers being less than two percent of the actual population, he thinks it would be difficult to find support for a farm bill in Congress without some of the other programs related to the bill.

Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered Kentucky agricultural and rural issues for various publications since 1995.

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