Surge in dairy cows drives investments in corn acreage
By SEAN ELLIS
Idaho's rapid increase in corn acres continued this year as Gem State farmers planted a record amount.
According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 380,000 acres of corn were planted in Idaho in 2012, which, if realized, would be 30,000 more than the previous record set last year.
"It doesn't surprise me," said Glenn Shewmaker, a University of Idaho Extension forage specialist in Kimberly. "It's come a long ways and it's becoming a major cash crop in Idaho."
Idaho's corn acreage has risen steadily since 2001, when 175,000 acres were planted in the state. The rapid increase has closely mirrored that of the state's dairy industry, which has moved from ninth to third nationally in milk production since 1998.
NASS estimates 130,000 acres of corn were planted for grain this year in Idaho, an increase of 10,000 over last year.
"There's a pretty high degree of correlation between corn acres and Idaho dairy cows," UI ag economist Paul Patterson said. "They are very strongly connected."
Shewmaker said silage corn replaced some alfalfa acres in Idaho this year and even at its current price is still a good buy based on the energy value it provides livestock.
"Even with the high price of corn, it's still competitive with other feeds," he said. "It's pretty hard to compete with the (economics) of a good yield of corn."
Patterson said Idaho dairies used to buy more of their corn from the Midwest and transport it here by rail, but that began to change about six years ago when corn prices rose along with transportation costs.
"Prices are higher, plus the cost to get it here is higher than it used to be," he said. "It got to the point where growing corn in Idaho all of a sudden started making sense."
Future corn acre totals will also be tied to the state's dairy industry, said Steve Hines, a UI Extension educator in Twin Falls County.
"The acres will increase when the dairy industry expands," he said. As long as prices for grain corn are up, there could be some minor increase, "but there won't be any robust increases in acres unless the number of cows increases."
Idaho's corn harvest just recently got under way and early indications are that yields will be good, Shewmaker said.
"With the heat units we had, we should get some pretty good yields," he said. "It was awfully hot, but from what I've heard, I don't think we had much heat damage."