Corn Market News

Fall corn popping up in Texas

A punishing drought in the Midwest has opened a door of opportunity for Texas farmers to take up the slack in corn production.

Some South Texas farmers are taking advantage by planting a fall crop of corn, an unusual practice in Texas because of water concerns, pest issues and other crop management problems.

With the drought expected to shrink corn production to its lowest level in six years this year, corn prices are still hovering around $8 a bushel and could go higher. That and the prospects of a wetter fall have persuaded farmers to risk planting a late corn crop this year and expand corn plantings in 2013.

"We've sold lots of corn for $3 to $3.50 a bushel. It's hard to ignore the chance to get over double what they've paid before," said Medina County farmer Mark Carroll, who planted about 320 acres of corn earlier this summer with hopes of making a fall crop. "It's just a market-driven situation."

Matt Huie, a Beeville-area rancher and farmer southeast of San Antonio, said he obtained a contract with a starch company that will pay a premium price for the corn he hopes to produce this fall or early winter.

Even with irrigation, Huie's crop will need rain in the coming months to produce well. He said his spring corn crop was not successful, and his cotton and grain sorghum were not much better. So Huie said he is counting on the fall corn "to pay a few bills."

Across Texas, farmers are searching for ways to make money after a record-breaking drought last year ravaged production. Rains have returned this year on a scattered basis, leaving some areas with solid crop yields and others still suffering.

The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly 90 percent of the state faces drought conditions, and 44 percent is experiencing severe drought or worse.

Travis Miller, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist, said "farmers are entrepreneurs" and will be drawn to crops that produce higher prices, like corn. He said farmers in the Rio Grande Valley have grown a late-season corn crop for years, and he's hearing more interest about the fall plantings this year.

Corn is typically a spring crop in Texas and is harvested in the summer. Last year, more than 2 million acres of corn were planted in Texas and about 1.5 million acres were harvested as the drought took its toll.

What makes it difficult to grow corn into the fall, aside from its irrigation needs, are worms and other pests that arise in the fall and early frosts that can keep the crop from maturing properly. Corn also needs a period to dry out properly, which can be cut short by fall rains, officials said.

Bill Slomchinski, a Poteet-area farmer, said he quit planting corn in the spring because its price fell so far in years past and its yields were not strong. But he's trying a small fall planting of corn this year because of the high corn prices. He believes it has a good chance of success.

New, genetically modified varieties of corn are a little more drought tolerant and pest resistant and require a shorter growing season, which could help it avoid the first frost, Slomchinski said.

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