Challenging King Cotton

July 26, 2013 10:35 PM
Challenging King Cotton

Dulaney Seed finds corn niche in the Delta

Agronomic challenges abound in the Mississippi Delta. Corn faces stressful nighttime low temperatures during pollination. Insect pressures tend to be high. Hurricanes from the Gulf can dump 6" to 8" of rain in a single day.

That’s just for starters, says Wayne Dulaney, sales lead and agronomist for the Clarksdale-based Dulaney Seed Inc., pointing out additional challenges with water-holding capacity and rapid denitrification. Added up, is there even any interest in growing corn in the Delta? Yes!

"Delta corn acreage took a huge leap in 2007 and has been increasing since then, with more growth anticipated in coming years," says Charlie Robinette, general manager at Dulaney Seed. High corn profits relative to cotton and rice spur the expansion.

This puts a premium on hybrids that are tailor-made for the Delta, which has driven Dulaney’s recent success. The company was formed in 1991 as part of the family farm, currently in its 100th year of operation. Gen4 Farms is led by the fourth generation of Dulaney farmers, who produce some of the company’s seed, which is sold direct to farmers.

Started as a custom soybean and wheat cleaning operation, Dulaney Seed has achieved consistent growth and has a 5.5% corn market share in its primary trade area.

"We focused on corn where cotton was king," Dulaney says. The company hopes to achieve a 10% corn market share by 2018.

Robinette says Dulaney’s strong growth in corn market share is due to heavy product testing throughout the Delta, under an array of conditions, and the use of germplasm grown under tropical conditions that are best suited for the region’s growers.

To supply its climbing corn and soybean market share, in 2004 Dulaney teamed up with AgVenture Inc., the nation’s largest network of independently owned regional seed companies. "This move allowed us to have greater access to the latest seed genetics and technologies on the market, fortifying our ability to identify and select seed products uniquely adapted to our Delta growing conditions," Robinette explains.

Corn Acres Surge in Delta

The Mississippi Delta’s corn renaissance kicked into high gear in 2007, when high corn prices relative to competing crops motivated many farmers to switch. From just one year earlier in 2006, corn acreage skyrocketed 50% in Alabama, 195% in Arkansas, 150% in Louisiana, 188% in Mississippi and 53% in Tennessee. By comparison, U.S. acreage rose 19% year-over-year. Acreage slipped back a bit in some succeeding years after that initial spike, but as of late, corn acreage has been mounting a new charge, and experts believe corn production will continue to grow in the
Delta. From 2011 to 2013, Arkansas acreage is expected to jump 79% to 1 million acres. Mississippi’s acreage, the largest in corn acreage of all Delta states, increased 30% to 1,050,000 acres, according to the USDA’s March Prospective Plantings report.

"I don’t expect prices to go back to where it’s not profitable to grow corn," says Ronald Levy, corn and soybean specialist at Louisiana State University’s (LSU)Agricultural Center. "We’re trending higher." The growth has come at King Cotton’s expense. Cotton acreage dropped substantially from 2002 to 2012 in all Delta states.

The shift to corn has put a premium on getting cutting-edge management information into the hands of Delta farmers to cope with the region’s unique challenges, Levy says. In response, the LSU Ag Center has ramped up its corn research and Extension efforts. Additional corn yield trials are possible from increased funding by corn checkoff funds. Levy says producers are helped in their quest for production information from land-grant universities and seed, fertilizer and equipment companies, as well as consultants.

You can e-mail Ed Clark at

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