Delaware corn harvest may hit all-time record

Harry Joseph's combine completes a harvest pass through the tall corn plants fueled by this summer's bountiful rain. BY DENNIS FORNEY
September 27, 2013

Sussex County farmers, and their counterparts throughout the state, may be headed for a record-breaking harvest of corn. Delaware Department of Agriculture spokesman Dan Shortridge said with an estimated 42 percent of this year’s crop harvested, the average yield across the state is 160 bushels per acre. “That’s just two bushels shy of the all-time yield record of 162 bushels set in 2000,” said Shortridge.

With ideal harvesting conditions in September, and more than half of the crop yet to bring in, the 2013 harvest could still eclipse the mark set in 2000.

Shortridge credited heavy rainfall this summer for the strong harvest numbers so far. Eastern Sussex farmer Harry Joseph, however - in the customary understated fashion of a farmer with five decades of ups and downs  - saw the heavy rainfall in a different light.

Early this week, he climbed down from his red Case combine while emptying a full load of shelled corn into a waiting grain trailer. Bright sun, temperature in the 70s, low humidity - a perfect day for cutting corn. Standing in the fresh stubble of the Route 1 field near Cave Neck Road, we chatted for a few minutes.

He said the yield isn’t as strong as it could have been.

“Sometimes too much rain can be as bad as too little. I think this year’s rain hampered pollination to a degree. Still, it’s decent.”

Joseph said another factor taking shine off the story is the lower price corn’s bringing this year. “I think the price on the board of trade I saw this week was something like $4.60 per bushel. That’s more than $3 less per bushel than last year at this time when it was approaching the $8 mark.”

Joseph wasn’t complaining, just stating facts. Corn prices in 2012 hit all-time highs.

All in all, a good year

At $4.60 per bushel and an average yield of 160 bushels to the acre, Delaware’s estimated 174,000 acres of corn planted this year for grain will yield gross sales of about $128,064,000. Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee estimates it costs about $600 per acre to grow corn. Doing the basic math that elementary school education word problems taught me, that means Delaware’s farmers will earn about $23 million in profit this year from their corn. With that they will buy equipment and irrigation systems, pay their loans and mortgages, educate, clothe and feed their children and themselves, and meet the other expenses that pile up in life. That’s an 18 percent return on their money for the corn harvest. A good year, and it takes the good ones to offset the bad ones that inevitably come in the world of farming.

Kee said this about 2013’s yield and prices: “Most of Delaware’s corn is consumed on the Delmarva Peninsula, used as feed for our poultry industry, so greater yields are good news for both sides of the equation. It costs about $600, on average, to grow an acre of corn, so the yield and the price have to work together to reach a threshold of profitability for our farmers.

“Corn prices for this crop appear to be lower at this point than they were last year, thanks in part to lower demand, the decline in ethanol use, increased corn production and other national factors,” said Kee. “The good news is that a significant portion of last year’s corn crop was contracted for at a favorable price. Low feed costs are good for the poultry industry, so as long as price opportunities are in place for growers to lock in profits, both corn growers and poultry companies will remain profitable and healthy, as they are now.”

Sussex County, the largest of Delaware’s three counties, grows by far the greatest amount of corn in Delaware. Final numbers aren’t in for 2013, but in 2012, Sussex farmers planted 108,000 acres of corn, while Kent County farmers planted 56,000 acres and New Castle County farmers 21,000.

Food, shelter and heat are the three requirements for human survival. Is it any wonder we take our farming, housing and energy sectors so seriously?

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