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Changes, challenges abound as southern farmers plant 2007 corn crop

Agriculture.com Staff 03/22/2007 @ 3:20pm

Farmers growing more corn in the southeastern U.S. could be facing challenge after challenge in raising the crop.

The northward-marching spring planting may leave behind problems that could unfold into logistical nightmares in the southeast, where hundreds of thousands of cotton acres are being displaced by corn this year.

But for now, corn growers in the deep south are looking to technology and different means of crop protection to counteract both a seed corn shortage and different, sometimes new, set of input needs.

Because of this shortage of available hybrids with desired traits, growers in Florida are turning to early fertilizer applications to get strong stands right out of the gate. Cost helps justify these applications now too, according to University of Florida agronomist David Wright.

"Growers are doing more banding of fertilizers because of the price," Wright says. "We can reduce the amount by at least one-third if it is applied as a starter near the row on normal row widths."

Nearly all of the corn in Mississippi, says Mississippi State University Extension agronomist Jerry Singleton, is Roundup Ready and more farmers are starting to plant with 12-row systems guided by GPS and autosteer technology. But the key technology -- though far from "new" -- is planting Roundup Ready hybrids.

Singleton says area farmers don't have corn rootworm populations high enough to justify planting transgenic rootworm-resistant hybrids. However, they are utilizing corn borer-resistant hybrids "to the max" to repel European corn borers.

A few troublesome structural challenges may await growers as the crop is harvested next fall, Singleton says. The storage and transportation infrastructure is vastly different than that for the area's staple crop, cotton. This begins on growers' farms, where the construction of crucial on-farm grain storage has been underway for months.

"We typically don't store corn on the farm like they do in the Midwest. We have very limited on-farm storage, but back in December, a lot of farmers started making the decision to put up more on-farm storage," Singleton says. "A lot of farmers have put up storage for probably 50% of their corn."

A second challenge raised by the corn-acreage influx is in transportation. With a very limited number of local corn users and processors, moving harvested corn from east-central Mississippi depends largely on the Mississippi River. If the current planting-friendly dry spell extends into summer and river levels decline as a result, river navigation could be slowed or halted altogether.

"Our grain elevators probably don't have the capabilities to handle this increase in corn acreage. We're hoping there's plenty of water in the river and the barges can get up and down the river so the elevators can dump and get the grain moved up the river," Singleton says. "Some of these river elevators don't have access if the river gets too low. Depending on how harvest goes, we could have a tough time getting corn out of here."

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