“We had several dry years, but we also caught some rain and made some pretty good corn,” Norman says. He notes that 2005 and 2006 were dry. “But 2007 was a good year, and it looked like an irrigated crop.”

The area, once burdened with a reputation for producing corn with high aflatoxin levels, has improved quality significantly over the past few years to the point where some  brokers are buying corn here to make up for high aflatoxin levels in other areas. The difference, growers say, is Aflaguard.

“I only had two loads last year that measured more than 20 parts per billion,” Norman says. “Aflaguard made the difference. We apply it every year and are getting an 85 percent to 90 percent reduction in aflatoxin.”

Cost is $20 per acre. “It’s just another cost of production,” Norman says. Depending on the price of corn, it takes from two-and-a-half to five bushels per acre to cover the expense, Aycock adds.

He says some crops are more forgiving than others and corn is one that will punish you for making a mistake. He says the crop needs water at a certain time, adequate nutrients on time and protection from pests.

“If you make a mistake, you have to be almost perfect for the rest of the season to make up for it,” Norman adds.

He likes to have some nitrogen available early to get the crop started. He’s been injecting fertilizer 4 inches off the row right after planting for the last two years. “I think that will be an advantage.”

Aycock was applying pre-plant fertilizer in late January.

The last item on the unofficial agenda was feral hog control, another management expense that has become “one more cost of production,” Norman says. “I have a full-time hunter because hogs are hitting me just about everywhere.”

That hunter, who Norman describes as a “deadly shooter,” took 600 hogs out of Norman’s fields over the past 18 months. “He got some of those from a helicopter but shot most from the ground. It’s made a difference.”

But hogs are still taking a toll in corn fields. “They’re hitting us at harvest now,” Norman says. “They come in and knock the stalks down.”

Control measures are more difficult with a mature crop. Hunters on the ground can’t see hogs to shoot and hunters in helicopters can’t pick them out from the vegetation. They say helicopters, when vegetation is thin, can be effective in reducing hog numbers.

Trapping in the area has not been as successful. “It just hasn’t worked well for us,” Norman says. “A few farmers are using traps successfully.”

They would like to see some form of toxin or product that would render the animals sterile made available to reduce hog numbers and the damage and control costs farmers endure every year.

Before taking leave, Aycock and Norman quickly contemplated grain prices. They are not optimistic for any upward movement.

“A lot of factors come into play,” Norman says. He cites low cattle numbers, ethanol ups and downs, and competition from other countries as overriding concerns.

“We see a lot of uncertainty,” he adds.

“And we have to look at interest rates,” Aycock says. “How long can it stay this low?”

Having other things to do, the participants then went their separate ways.

 

Also of interest:

The 2014 economic outlook: slow walk to recovery continues

Southwest outlook: Some relief in input prices

Cattle Outlook – 2013’s year of records