- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
St. Mary’s grain farmers are hoping for one of the best corn harvests they’ve seen in years.
And they’re not alone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported this month that farmers are expecting a record yield of corn and soybeans in 2013.
“Right now, our crops look good,” said Tina Bowles of Bowles Farm in Clements, where her family grows corn, soybeans, wheat and barley. “Anything’s better than the last two years.”
“We had sort of optimal rain and sun,” said Julie Klapproth, a statistician with the USDA Maryland Field Office.
The USDA says corn growers are expected to produce a record-high 13.8 billion bushels of corn in 2013. That forecast is up 28 percent from drought-stricken 2012.
About 12,000 acres of corn are planted in the county each year, said Ben Beale of the University of Maryland Extension office in St. Mary’s County. Most of it is shipped to the Eastern Shore where it’s used as poultry feed.
It’s a risky crop, farmers say. Timing is key and the plants need a near-perfect mix of heat and rain.
July is typically dry and hot in Maryland, Klapproth said. It’s also a time when corn is starting to mature. But drought can restrict pollination and dehydrate corn, which is planted in mid- to late spring and harvested in the fall. And if it rains too much, pollen often won’t fall properly from the top of the plant and onto the corn silks — a process that helps produce the kernels, she said.
In 2000, Maryland farmers harvested an average of 155 bushels per acre, Klapproth said. But three years ago, they only saw 106 bushels per acre. In 2011, that average rose to 109 and last year, it was 122 per acre.
It costs about $600 to produce an acre of corn, Beale said. In a year like this, where a bumper crop is expected, farmers can make about $650 to $700 per acre after harvest. So, he said, a farmer with 1,000 acres could earn $100,000 from one crop.
“If we don’t have a hurricane come through and blow it flat to the ground, it’ll be a good year,” said Joseph Wood, owner of Forrest Hall Farm in Mechanicsville. Wood is also vice president of the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau. Farmers have been talking about a promising yield, he said.
But the season didn’t start off that way. Some planted seed early and those crops drowned or rotted in the ground because they got too much moisture, Wood said. Many went back and replanted.
Wood said full-season soybeans, usually planted in early May, also look like they’ll produce a good yield in St. Mary’s, an expectation that also follows USDA predictions nationwide. The agency reported this month that the soybean forecast is at 3.26 billion bushels, up 8 percent from last year.
In St. Mary’s, soybeans planted later — around June, so that farmers could use that same acreage for other grain crops — seem to have struggled a bit more, partly because they haven’t matured enough to produce adequate shading to let the ground to retain moisture around the plants, Wood said. Those soybeans, he said, “might need a little help.”