LUMBERTON — Robeson County farmers could reap big yields this season from corn and soybean crops that have been drenched with copious amounts of rain — and from a drought in the Midwest that has scorched crops and sent corn prices skyrocketing.
According to a recent Bloomberg article, the price of corn has surged 61 percent since June 15. Local farmers say they are being paid double the usual price, up to $8, for a bushel.
“I hate that we’re benefiting from their loss, but I’m really glad we’re having a good year,” said Roger Oxendine, who owns an 8,000-acre farm near Rowland. “The farmers in this area really needed it.”
According to the United States Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Robeson County ranked No. 1 in the state in 2010 for corn for grain at 5,284,000 bushels — and brought more than $27 million in revenue. Crops this year could yield up to 50 bushels more per acre than during 2011, said Mac Malloy, a field crop agent at the county’s Extension Service. He said this year’s rain has been “critical” for corn production.
“Usually that’s the missing link for us here in North Carolina,” he said. “Usually in June we’ll start getting some pretty intense heat and long periods without adequate rainfall.”
But the extra rain has also brought disease to tobacco, and the high price of corn has some sweating an inevitable spike in costs to those who raise — and eat — poultry and livestock.
This June, 5.07 inches of rain fell in the county — about two-and-a-half more inches than in 2011, according to the National Weather Service; total rainfall from May to August was more than 3 inches greater than what the county received last year.
“These environmental conditions are very favorable for disease,” Malloy said. “You’ve got warm temperatures, high humidity and moisture — and I have seen the quality of some tobacco that has been affected by disease going downhill very quickly.
“Some growers are in rescue mode to try to get as much leaves off of the plant as possible,” he said.
Oxendine is one of those growers; all that remains in row after row of his tobacco crop are stalks hurriedly stripped of their greenery.
“What’s bad for tobacco is great for soybeans,” Oxendine said. “You kind of get gifted in one hand and hit in the other.”
Oxendine said that the disease, which causes leaves to brown and fall off, travels in the water and spreads quickly from plant to plant through the roots. He also said that this year’s rainfall has left the leaves thinner than usual, but that demand for tobacco has been on such a rise that companies have lowered their quality standards, making for a market that will still yield a profit.
Prices for tobacco have been strong, according to Oxendine.
Still, Oxendine expects his most profitable crop will be corn — although he expects the increase in price will hurt him when he begins to buy grain to feed his hogs.
Michelle Shooter, county livestock agent, said that corn producers and livestock farmers have an “inverse relationship.”
“Usually when the crop farmers are really excited about prices, the livestock producers get really nervous,” she said.
“North Carolina is a grain-deficient state,” Malloy said. “In other words, our demand for grain is a lot higher than what we can produce. …We have so much poultry and livestock production that we just can’t grow enough.”
James Parsons, a cooperative extension agent specializing in poultry, said he expects companies such as Mountaire and Perdue that purchase grain for contract growers will suffer from high prices at the silos — and that the cost will be passed on to people who eat chicken, beef and pork.
“I don’t think they have a choice,” he said. “It’s record high corn prices and feed is 70 to 80 percent corn.”
According to a forecast from the United States Department of Agriculture, prices for meat, poultry and fish will rise 3 to 4 percent this year, with poultry being the first affected from the drought. However, the transmission of commodity price changes into retail prices typically takes several months to occur, and most of the effect of the drought is expected to be realized in 2013, Richard Volpe, the USDA’s food economist, said in a statement.
“Meat is going to be expensive,” Shooter said. “When you have corn at $8, everything is expensive.”
Oxendine expects the price of corn to return to normal by next growing season.
“Economists are saying there will be a lot of corn planted next year because of what’s going on now,” he said. “Everyone’s going to plant corn wall-to-wall.”