Corn crop good, but not record

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More rain could change that expectation

By Lisa King

Farmers in Shelby County, like the rest of the state, aren’t as optimistic about a record corn crop as they were earlier in the summer. However, most do predict a very good year and are still holding out hope that the weather could boost it closer to last year’s record numbers.

“I would say that some spots in the county might be as good as last year, but others may only get seventy to eighty bushels [per acre],” farmer Kevin Smith said. “I don’t think it will equal the corn crop we had last year.”

Last year, Shelby County had a record yield with an average 190 bushels per acres, surpassing the 170 bushels per acre for the entire state.

“According to the release that just came out, it will not be record production in Kentucky,” said Barry Adams, deputy regional director for the USDA Kentucky Field Office.

That opinion has changed from June when Dave Knopf, regional director for the USDA’s Kentucky Field Office, who heads up the state’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, said the corn crop was looking as good as last year’s.

Corrine Belton, agriculture extension agent for Shelby County, said that though the dry weather in July didn’t damage the corn crop very much, it did slow it down.

“I don’t think a lot of people have gotten to the critical stage, especially, before the last couple of days,” she said.

State Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville), chair of the Kentucky Agriculture Committee and a farmer, agreed that the recent rainy spell made a big difference for most crops.

“For the most part, the dry weather hasn’t hurt us that bad; it might have knocked the yield on corn and beans a little bit, but the rain was very timely, and I don’t think crops were hurt that bad,” he said. “There’s no doubt it’s going to be an above average crop, and we still need more rain in August and September for the soybeans, because they’re far from being at their full potential yet. But overall, it’s been a very good crop year, especially when you look at other parts of the state. Tobacco’s good, too; I would consider tobacco above average overall.”


More rain needed

Smith, who is a regular winner in state corn yield contests held each year by the University of Kentucky – he won the regional competition in 2013 with 277 bushels per acre – said that just a little more rain could take the corn crop to the next level.

“It is good corn now, but another inch of rain within the next two weeks will make the difference between a good crop and an excellent crop,” he said.

He explained how the corn crop got to the stage it’s in now.

“Right now, we have had timely rains,” he said. “We had cool, wet weather, then it was a little dry in June, but the corn rebounded. Overall, it’s very good, though I’ve noticed that some of it is a bit shorter than last year.”

The interesting thing, he said, is that crops are not uniform in development countywide because of differences in rainfall.

“The rain was scattered, real sporadic; some areas got more than others,” he said.

Belton echoed that opinion.

“Different areas of the county are fairing better than others,” she said. “Where I live, in Cropper, around that area, we’ve been pretty lucky, and had rain when we needed it. So it varies, depending on where you are, but I don’t think we’re in a severe drought. I think these last couple of days have really helped things from getting critical.”


Ahead of other counties

Phillip McCoun, a Shelby farmer who is chair of the seven-member promotional council of the Kentucky Corn Growers Association, said that Shelby’s corn crop is doing better than some areas of the state.

“I don’t know yet about a record yield for this year, but the crop looks really good,” he said. “We are a lot better off than they are in western Kentucky.’

Of the 600 members of the KCGA, Shelby has 20 members.

Jennifer Elwell, communications director for the KCGA, said that she is currently putting together a report about the expected corn yield for 2014.

“While we knew reproducing last year's record 243 million bushel crop was not likely this year, the August 12 USDA-NASS crop report provided us a better prediction than we expected,” she said.

Elwell said that the state’s estimated yield this year is 200 million bushels, down 18 percent from 2013’s record.

“Rain has been scarce in much of our largest corn growing areas, especially along the southern tier,” she said, adding that after a poll of growers around the state, the KCGA anticipates the average yield for this year to be about 130 bushels per acre.

Nationally, she said, U.S. corn production was forecast at 14.0 billion bushels, up 1 percent from 2013.

“If realized, this will be the highest U.S. production on record,” she said.

She added that based on conditions as of August 1, yields are expected to average 167.4 bushels per acre nationally, up 8.6 bushels from 2013.

She said she would note in her report that across the nation, the corn crop is rated 73% good to excellent, and in Kentucky, USDA-NASS reported only 57% rating good to excellent.

Elwell said Kentucky’s corn crop is rated below the national average in excellence because of drought-like conditions in southern Kentucky have pulled down the average.

“We’ve had a lot of drought in some of the larger corn growing areas, especially down toward the Tennessee line, what we call the southern tier region,” she said. “Logan and Christian counties, pretty much between Bowling Green and Hopkinsville has been pretty dry and a significant amount of our corn comes from that area.”

The KCGA reports that corn continues to be the state’s number one cash crop, and, according to The Lane Report, it ranks as the state’s number two commodity, just behind poultry. Horses, cattle and soybeans round out the top five.

Last year’s corn crop of 243 million bushels was the state’s largest in history, with a yield of 11 more bushels per acre than the national average and valued at $1.1 billion. That compares to 2012 when the state produced 104 million bushels.

Most of Kentucky’s corn crop, Elwell said, goes for livestock feed, at 50 percent, with 20 percent going for other food sources, and 10 percent each for Bourbon and spirits, fuel ethanol and exports.