White Corn Gold

November 29, 2011 06:29 PM
White Corn Gold

More work, but for some it’s worth the effort

The Kuhns family’s motivation for growing white corn stems from making more on every acre. "It’s the highest-value crop," says J.D. Kuhns. The Arthur, Ill., family pockets an extra 40¢ to 85¢ per bushel in premiums, but some years it has reached $1 per bushel when compared to local cash bids.

It’s also extra work—and with corn prices high, there is less incen-tive for producers to go through the extra effort. White corn has to be stored separately from No. 2 yellow corn, and it takes a higher level of management and planning to work with than yellow corn.

Many farmers who try growing white corn don’t stick with it, so Kuhns isn’t overly concerned that the market is going to be flooded with farmer interest, which could reduce the premium.

The white corn market, while small, is growing, though, primarily due to the corn chip market. Growth is occurring in Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana and pockets of Texas and California. In Kuhns’ area, the number of farmers growing white corn is increasing; within a 10-mile radius, a half dozen farmers are growing it. "Buyers are always looking for more," he adds. As a result, Kuhns is looking to add more acres.

White Corn Gold   2
Growing white corn requires extra work, but J.D. Kuhns and his family, of Arthur, Ill., receive 40¢ to 85¢ per bushel premiums.

Perseverance Pays. Kuhns started experimenting with white corn in 2003, converting 80 acres for two years. "It did OK, but we didn’t get the yields we wanted." After switching to a different seed company, he reached yields as good as or better than triple-stack hybrids for yellow corn. This year, Kuhns grew 700 to 750 acres of white corn.

Kuhns ships to a Frito Lay plant 45 miles away in Sidney, Ill.; to Archer Daniels Midland; and to Clarkson Grain in Cerro Gordo, Ill. Most growers are within 10 miles of white corn processing plants. All of the family’s white corn is contracted, based off futures prices. There is no basis, however.

Management Techniques. Fields of white corn have to be managed so that planting, scouting, spraying and harvest don’t conflict with yellow corn production.

"We have to spoon-feed more with nitrogen and do more scouting," Kuhns says. "I also have to sidedress, make multiple passes of fungicides at different stages and watch it more." He does not need different equipment, however.

In addition, buyers are liable to call and need 30,000 bu. delivered as soon as possible.

"There is give and take. You have to be flexible and willing to bend over backward," Kuhns says.
Offsetting its overall profitability, in some years he has had more problems with white corn than with yellow corn. In 2009, for instance, he had to wait for fields to dry out after the cool and wet weather, causing everything to be planted late.

"Our philosophy with rental costs and everything else going through the roof is that instead of growing more bushels on more acres, it makes more sense to increase dollars per acre," Kuhns says.

"But you’re not getting $75 to $100 per acre for nothing. You have to work for it."

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