For many Midwestern states, talk of “corn vs. soybeans” has dominated the conversation. But head a bit further south and east, and those two grains are just two voices in a much larger chorus of crop options.
North Carolina is a prime example of agricultural diversity. The state’s 52,000 farmers grow more than 80 different commodities, from poultry, dairy and livestock operations in the central part of the state, to cotton, corn, peanuts and other row crops in the southeastern part of the state.
Neighboring states Kentucky and Tennessee find a similarly diverse crop set with which to work. And that can be a good thing--especially with a wet spring threatening a timely harvest, according to Chuck Danehower, Extension area specialist with the University of Tennessee.
“February and March have been too wet for much to be accomplished,” Danehower says. “A continuation of a wet spring could hamper corn planting and see some of those acres switch to soybeans or possibly milo [grain sorghum].”
With today’s equipment and technology, farmers can plant a lot of acres in a short time window, Danehower says. Because of that, planting conditions until the middle of April will determine the final number of corn acres. Danehower predicts farmers swapping out a moderate percentage of corn acres for soybean acres in 2015--estimating 700,000 corn acres (down 222,000 acres) and 1.9 million acres of soybeans (up 260,000 acres).
Wet spring weather is creating crop wildcard scenarios in Kentucky as well, according to Todd Davis, assistant Extension professor of agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky. In particular, he has his eye on how wet weather could affect the susceptible winter wheat crop, not to mention planting schedule for 2015.
“It has been very wet,” Davis says. “If it continues, it may delay pre-planting fieldwork.”
Some parts of this geography have seen dramatic crop changes over the past decade, with cotton being the biggest example of this. A decade ago, the National Cotton Council’s annual planting intentions survey pegged the North Carolina cotton crop at 702,000 acres and Tennessee’s at 544,000 acres.
And this year’s NCC survey? North Carolina is expecting just 411,000 acres of cotton and Tennessee, 176,000 acres. Danehower says the Volunteer State could serve up as many as 200,000 acres. “However, it is the highest input crop, and at average yields, could see the greatest losses considering all costs,” he says.
According to the NCC survey, North Carolina farmers will swap out cotton acres for more soybean acres. Meanwhile, in Kentucky and Tennessee, another crop is drawing increased interest.
“There’s definitely some regional interest in grain sorghum,” Davis says.
Demand for grain sorghum has increased as evidenced by a positive basis as high as 85 cents in August/September in the Memphis market, Danehower says.
“This puts the economics of milo at the top of the crop list,” he says. “However, many producers have never raised milo or have not raised it in in 15 or 20 years, so there is some uncertainty there on the production end.”
But whatever the crop mix ultimately chosen, Danehower says farmers will almost certainly be faced with tight margins for 2015 and must adapt accordingly.
“Producers will need to watch carefully their costs of production and justify every expense to produce the maximum economic yield,” he says.
Spring Planting 2015: Southeast
States: Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina
Top Contender: Soybeans
Sleepers: Grain sorghum
Factors to Watch: Wet spring weather could cause planting delays, which in turn could reshape any crop mix estimates.
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