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Harford farmers expect good corn yields, but prices could be better

Contact Reporterdaanderson@baltsun.com

A rainy July has led to a robust Harford County corn crop in August, as the rainy weather hit just as the corn was going through its crucial pollination period, according to a Harford County Extension agent.

"The corn crop here looks fantastic," said Andrew Kness, agriculture extension educator for the University of Maryland Extension's Harford County office in Forest Hill.

The strong crop, however, isn't going to translate into huge financial gains for farmers because corn prices are significantly lower than five years ago. Corn is trading at $3.60 per bushel, compared to a high of nearly $9 in 2012, Kness said.

One bushel of corn weights 56 pounds, he said.

"It's gone down considerably, so that affects the margin that growers have to work with," Kness said.

He said after a slow start, the growing season has been close to ideal. He noted farmers were delayed by about two weeks during planting season in the spring because of wet weather in April and May.

"We had rain almost every day, and it made planting impossible," Kness said Friday.

The weather was dry and hot in June, followed by a rainy July and periodic rain so far in August.

Kness noted the corn plants "are not drought stressed whatsoever — they're as happy as can be."

"As long as we keep getting periodic rains, our crop is going to look pretty good this year," he said.

Kness explained that the most recent rains happened as pollens were coming off of the tassels at the top of the corn plants and making their way to the silks, which will grow into ears, if properly fertilized.

The silks will, however, delay their emergence if there is not enough moisture and the pollen could be gone by the time they come out.

Too much heat can kill pollen, too, according to Kness.

"If you have sufficient moisture, everything's timed up perfectly and everything proceeds the way it should," he said.

Local farmers grow some sweet corn, according to Kness. That crop is typically sold to people at farm markets.

Most of the corn grown in Harford County, Kness said, is used for animal feed, with much of it going to poultry farms on the Delmarva Peninsula.

Kness noted most of the corn grown in Maryland, Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey goes to those poultry farms.

"They eat a lot of corn," he said of the chickens.

A few local growers put in more corn than normal this year because wet weather in the Midwest — the primary corn-growing region in the U.S. — has harmed the corn crop there, according to Kness.

Corn grower Zach Rose, of Clear Meadow Farm in White Hall, said $5 per bushel, not the current $3.60, would be an ideal price.

"Five dollars would be nice, but you also don't want to go too high," he said.

Rose owns the farm with his parents, Dave and Nancy, and his brother, Greg. His grandfather, the late Harold Smith, started the farm as a dairy cattle operation in the 1940s.

The family transitioned into beef cattle and grain in the late 1970s, he said.

Rose gave an Aegis reporter a tour of his corn and soybean fields Saturday.

The family planted about 5,000 acres of corn and about 3,000 acres of soybeans this year, which is a normal rotation for grain, Rose said.

He said the spring rains brought out pests like slugs and insects, and the Roses had to replant more corn and soybeans than usual because of the pest problems.

"There's a lot of bad spots in the field," Rose said. "Hopefully the good spots will make up for the bad spots."

He noted the corn crop has "come a long way from the start of the season."

"We're definitely going to have an above average-yield," he said. "I don't think it's going to be a bin buster."

Rose grows field corn, which is used for chicken, pig and cattle feed. He pulled back the outer covering on one ear of corn to show the bright yellow kernels — the ear had some damaged spots from the pests.

He said workers will start cutting part of the corn fields for "green chop," or the still-green corn plant, in a few weeks. The green chop, which comes from about 5 percent of the acreage, is turned into roughage for livestock, according to Rose.

The remaining 95 percent of the acreage remains in the field so the kernels can dry before being processed into feed — the kernels make up the protein part of the animals' diet, according to Rose.

He said harvesting for grain corn will start around mid-September.

"When you green chop, it is [about] 65 percent moisture," Rose said.

The grain corn should have about 25 percent moisture when it is harvested, and machinery is used to get the moisture level to 15 percent, according to Rose.

Rose has concrete silos on his property for storing green chop and large metal bins for storing the dried corn and soybeans — corn and soybeans are stored in separate facilities.

Rose said the soybeans, which come with a price of about $9 per bushel, are also used for animal feed. He said harvesting of soybeans will start around Oct. 1

Soybean futures are $9.35 for August, $9.38 for September and $9.33 for November. Corn futures are $3.58 for September and $3.72 for December, according to the Chicago Board of Trade.

"It's an average price," he said.

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