For North Carolina farmers in 2013: Growing grains in an awful lot of rain

On one hand, they produced their best corn crop ever. On the other, their grain sorghum was a major disappointment. And soybeans and wheat fell somewhere in between.

The rain-soaked summer of 2013 brought good news and bad news for the Webb Family Farm of Saratoga, N.C.

On one hand, they produced their best corn crop ever. On the other, their grain sorghum was a major disappointment. And soybeans and wheat fell somewhere in between.

Some of the variation was a little hard to predict.

“Our sandier and clay soils gave the best yields this year, instead of the soils that we normally think of as good corn soils,” says Ricky Webb, who farms with his father, Bruce, and his son, Thomas. “The good number 1 bottom land just didn’t give the best results this year.”

And price was a letdown. “We averaged $3 less per bushel than last year,” Ricky says.

One third of their wheat was still in the field when the rains set in. “We had been harvesting 80 bushels, but the last part wound up 50 bushels per acre,” he says. Soybeans yielded about 30 bushels, compared to 42 bushels the year before.

Planting was a problem. “We got our soybean crop half into the ground and then the rain started,” Ricky says. “It took till July 28 before we got it all planted.”

The early beans did 35 bushels better than the late ones.

“Grain sorghum is going to be a 50-bushel crop at best — much less than last year,” he says. “But grain sorghum is a tool in our rotation, so I will probably give it one more shot.”

The Webbs try to spread corn planting from late April to early May. “That way, we can spread our risk,” Ricky says.

He doesn’t think he will change any practices as a result of the 2013 experiences, with one possible exception: He might apply a bit more nitrogen on his soybeans in the future.

“We made a couple of foliar sprays this year, and we got the height we needed.”

Like Webb, Alton Roberson is reconsidering the place grain sorghum holds in his farming operation near Kinston, N.C.

“It was the hardest-hit of our crops in 2013,” he says. “It was planted on time — all in the ground by May 19, drilled in the row.”

But then he got 3 inches to 6 inches of rain. “The grain sorghum germinated a half-inch below the surface, and I had to replant. We got a better stand the second time, but with near-constant rain, the crop didn’t do well. We were hoping for 75 bushels per acre, but only got 40.”

Grain sorghum brings more than the value of its own production to the table, he says. “It puts a lot of organic matter on the soil and back into the ground, and we can use that on some of the deep sands we farm. In fact, some of our soils you might call ‘dead sand.’ We are trying to build them up, and grain sorghum helps.”

Roberson thinks he may reduce grain sorghum plantings next season, but because of how it fits in his rotation, the reduction probably won’t be much.

“We don’t want to make plans based on a season like we’ve just had, because this year was highly unusual,” he says. “We aren’t going to have weather like that very often.”

Thanks to the rains, 2013 was the best corn crop ever for Anthony Smith at Pink Hill, N.C., as was the case for many Tar Heel growers.

Getting a good plant population and a uniform stand were a big help in taking advantage of the weather conditions. “The higher the population, the better the yield,” he says. “If you were short on seed, you hurt yourself, because the water was there.”

A uniform stand was also very important. “We got the crop planted, got a good stand, and then the Good Lord helped us out,” Smith says. “We got all the rain we needed.”

Some supplemental nitrogen applications also came in handy, he says.

It was a season of good corn production in all southern states. In North Carolina, production was 121.8 million bushels; in South Carolina, 44.2 million bushels; and in Virginia, 53.2 million bushels. On the other side of the Appalachians, in Kentucky, the yield was 247.3 million bushels, and in Tennessee, 130.6 million bushels.

Soybean production was down noticeably. In North Carolina, production was 44.6 million bushels; in South Carolina, 8 million bushels; in Virginia, 23.6 million bushels; in Kentucky, 72.9 million bushels; and in Tennessee, 72.9 million bushels.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says the state’s corn yield of 150 bushels per acre is a record — 4 bushels above the 2000 record of 146 bushels.

Corn producers in the Commonwealth were expected to harvest 355,000 acres, up 5,000 acres from 2012. Production was forecast to be 53.3 million bushels, up 48 percent from the previous.

Commonwealth peanut yield was forecast to be 3,700 pounds per acre, down 400 pounds from the previous forecast. Production was estimated at 59.2 million pounds, down 30 percent from 2012. Producers were expected to harvest 16,000 acres.

Cotton yield was forecast at 997 pounds per acre, down 25 pounds from the previous forecast and down 121 pounds per acre from 2012. Production was expected to total 160,000 bales. Growers expected to harvest 77,000 acres in 2013.

Virginia soybean producers expected to average 40 bushels per acre, unchanged from the previous forecast, but down 2 bushels per acre from 2012’s record yield. Production was expected to total 23.6 million bushels from 590,000 acres.

Statistics are provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nationally, corn production was forecast at 14.0 billion bushels, up 1 percent from the previous forecast and up 30 percent from 2012. If realized, that will be a new record production for the U.S.

Soybean production was forecast at 3.26 billion bushels, up 3 percent from the previous forecast and up 7 percent from 2012. If realized, production would be the third largest on record.

See more articles from the Southern Corn and Soybean Production Guide!

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