Corn crop the #039;best in years#039;

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 25, 2003

You can't grow dry land corn in Alabama. Many farmers can attest to that.

But, those who have corn crops this year are grinning from ear-to-ear.

This year's corn crop will be one of the best crops in years for farmers who grow dry land corn, said Bill Sanders.

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"This is the first year since 1972 that we've not had to irrigate corn," he said. "We got 14 inches of rain in June and June is normally our dry month. Corn is a thirsty crop and it needs rain from the time it's planted until the kernels are almost in the hard dent stage."

The spring rains were sufficient to provide moisture to the corn from March through May.

The rains were a mixed blessing - great for the corn, but a little too much for other crops.

"With all the excess moisture, we had a hard time planting this year," Sanders said. "Some of the crops we couldn't get in the ground. Some crops that were planted drowned and had to be replanted. I had to replant some corn that drowned. But, the rain was more of a blessing because we've been below normal too often in recent years."

Sanders said the corn is at the roasting ear stage and, if it gets another shower or two in the next couple of weeks it will finish out the best corn crop in years.

"We need a good year," Sanders said. "When you grow dry land corn, about the best you can hope for is two crops out of 10. This year will make one."

Sanders grows about 250 acres of corn on his farm in Goshen. He grows corn as feed for his cattle and for a little cash on the side.

With the increase in poultry production in and around Pike County, Sanders said there is a market for locally grown corn.

"I store corn and sell it along as it's needed, by businesses or individuals," he said. "The poultry business is the main market for local corn and individuals buy corn for their cattle."

Because dry land corn can't be grown successfully in South Alabama, some farmers would rather buy corn for feed than try to raise their own.

"Alabama is a corn deficient state," Sanders said. "We use more corn than we grow. I've heard it said that one county in the Mid-West grows more corn than 13 Southeastern states."

Southern farmers who have dared to beat the odds have had to increase production in order to stay in business, Sanders said.

"We're getting the same price for a bushel of corn today that we got 25 years ago - $2.80. The cost of planting has gone up, so the only way to come out is to increase production."

Sanders said 40 years ago the average corn yield per acre was 30 bushels. On irrigated land, a local farmer can now produce 175 to 180 bushels an acre. They do so by managing the fertilizer and planting three to four inches apart instead of the 12 to 14 inches in the old days of farming."

Dry land corn is still a big risk because it's at the whim of Mother Nature. And, she can even have an adverse effect on irrigated crops.

This year the rain actually hurt the heavily fertilized irrigated corn because it leached out the fertilizer, Sanders said.

"While the dry land corn is good, the irrigated corn is not as good as it was in some past years," Sanders said. "But, like I said, we needed the rain."

But, the sunshine has been a welcomed sight the past few days.

"The peanuts need the sun now," Sanders said. "This is the first week that we've been able to get in the field to clean them up since they were planted. From July through August and September, the peanuts will need rain. If the rain quits now, the peanuts would begin to be hurt."

But, farmers have learned to take what Mother Nature gives them. Sometimes they take it on the chin, then again, on the cuff.

Right now, the corn looks good and that's a mighty pretty sight, Sanders said.