PLAINVIEW — Growing corn takes lots of water.
It’s an adage you’ve probably heard before. According to some farmers, though, it might not be a huge concern this year.
Chance McMillan is quick to defend his corn against its thirsty reputation.
“In my operation, I don’t put any more water on my corn than I do on my cotton crop,” he said. “With the new drought-tolerant varieties, it’s easier to make a really good crop off of corn.”
McMillan farms multiple commodities in Hale County. He considers grain crops a great alternative to cotton, whose heavy growing expenses combined with low prices don’t leave much room for profit.
Corn also offers more options for weed control, he said, and can often resist severe weather events that could destroy a cotton crop.
“Corn is a really tough plant — it can withstand wind and hail better than cotton can, to extent,” he said.
But what about traditional corn varieties that still require generous amounts of water?
In drier times, crops’ varying water demands would be a major factor when farmers decide what to plant.
John Villalba, agriculture agent for nearby Swisher County, predicts farmers won’t have to be as picky this spring. That means corn could be a popular choice.
“If you’ve got a wet year like this when we haven’t turned on any wells, it would be a no-brainer to put it in and see if it’s gonna work,” he said.
Villalba also cautions against planting corn too generously. Overseeding won’t necessarily bring higher yields, he said, but it will waste money.
It’s also worth reminding growers that rainy weather has no guarantees to stay that way.
Blayne Reed advises farmers to plant corn only if they have enough irrigation water to support it without rain. Even drought-tolerant varieties need about 18 inches, he said.
Reed, the integrated pest management agent for Swisher, Hale and Floyd counties, anticipates a new corn market this year.
“We’re gonna have a lot of first-time corn growers,” he said.
But while corn acreage could be up in the South Plains, the federal government expects less of it nationwide.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s planting intentions survey predicts 89.2 million planted corn acres, down 2 percent from last year. That total includes 2.3 million acres in Texas — 2 percent more than in 2014 — but recent severe weather could lower that number. That USDA report was released March 31, before floods arrived.
“I am not sure the increase will actually come to be since we had prevented plantings in several areas of Texas due to the heavy rain,” said David Gibson, executive director of Texas Corn Producers.
Fields in the Coastal Bend and North Texas are most likely to see less corn production related to the downpours, Gibson said. Like the Swisher County agents, he predicts more acreage in the High Plains and in the Panhandle.
Farther from home, farmers could be growing less corn because its prices have grown less attractive.
“The main reason plantings are down nationwide has to do with the corn/soybean price spread, and the fact that corn prices are projected lower based on the larger carryover of stocks from last year’s crop,” Gibson said.
Meanwhile, dry weather is allowing farmers into their fields for planting. Once the seeds are in the ground, they’ll be ready to for it to be wet again.
McMillan, the Hale County corn grower, estimates he’s saved about $60-80 an acre this spring by not irrigating. Not having to turn the system on during the summer either would be great, he said.
“Rain’s always a good thing, and it needs to keep raining,” he said.