Demand for livestock feed, ethanol leads to increased interest
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Though the worst U.S. drought in decades took a heavy toll on the national corn crop, Idaho producers who planted corn for grain set records in 2012 for total production, yields and acres harvested.
The state's farmers, who grow most of their corn under irrigation, harvested 25.7 million bushels of corn for grain, up 16 percent from the previous year, from 135,000 acres, up 15,000 acres, according to a Jan. 11 USDA crop estimates report. Grain corn yields were up 5 bushels per acre at 190 bushels.
Idaho Grain Producers Association Executive Director Travis Jones believes corn acres will continue to grow in the state, which imports more feed corn than it produces for its large dairy and cattle industries.
"Corn clearly has gained an important foothold in Idaho, especially in southern Idaho," Jones said.
Jones believes strong feed prices, heightened demand due to ethanol production and new genetic traits that make corn a viable option in places where it hasn't historically been grown have fueled the crop's Gem State expansion. Jones said IGPA has been investigating the possibility of creating a state corn growers' commodity group.
"I hear informally given the way corn moves in Idaho from the field straight to the dairy, (growers) are not interested in forming any kind of organized group yet," Jones said. "At this point, growers don't seem too interested in any kind of assessment that would take away from their pricing for research needs or risk management or anything like that."
Corn has been part of the rotation at Ron Elkin's farm in Buhl since his childhood. He said corn acres have expanded significantly within his region, and farmers have begun growing it at cooler, higher elevations.
"It's kind of interesting to me to see some of the places corn is being grown where you wouldn't have expected it," Elkin said.
Richard Durrant, with Big D Ranch in Hagerman, has heard predictions from analysts that U.S. corn growers will plant about 100 million acres of corn in 2013, compared with 97 million acres planted and 87 million acres harvested in 2012.
"Unless market conditions change, there will be more corn produced in the state," Durrant said. "I definitely foresee Idaho will have another acreage record for corn."
Though corn for grain set records in Idaho, corn for silage was down 4 percent at 5.94 million tons, according to USDA. The agency said silage yields, at 27 tons per acre, were down 0.5 tons.
Durrant estimates grain corn was at least 20 percent more profitable than silage corn in 2012. Furthermore, he said dairies struggled with cash flow last season, and silage corn limits producers to buyers within close proximity.
The USDA estimated Idaho's 2012 potato crop, which totaled 143 million hundredweight, was up 11 percent from the previous year. Idaho sugar beet production totaled 6.43 million tons, up 6 percent. Wheat production was 98 million bushels, down 15 percent; barley production was up 15 percent at 53.7 million bushels. Dry hay production, at 4.76 million tons, was down about 6 percent.