Local farmers have adjusted some of their operations to offset higher costs, including the cost of fuel and fertilizer.

Increased production costs have driven planting decisions on some farms, but not all, Calhoun County Clemson Extension Agent Charles Davis said.

“Some farms evaluated the increased market prices and decided they could weather the increased production costs through smart marketing and continued with their normal planting acreages,” Davis said.

“Others were more wary of the potential for greater loss due to higher input costs and opted to switch to less costly crops like soybeans on some of their acres,” he said.

Farmers who plant peanuts found this option difficult due to rotation problems between peanuts and soybeans, he said.

“When the final planted acreage numbers are tabulated at the end of July, we will probably see dryland corn acres were down as the risk/return was too low given the high production cost due to fertilizer price spikes this spring,” Davis said. “Those who made that decision are probably happy they made it given the drought that pretty much destroyed the dryland corn crop this year.”

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Providence farmer Dean Hutto came into the growing season with the intention to keep his planted acres as normal as he could given the unpredictable and volatile year.

Hutto planted about 1,200 acres of corn, 425 acres of peanuts, 700 acres of cotton, 800 acres of soybeans and 450 acres of wheat.

He’s made some changes to offset rising costs.

“We have just tried to be more efficient and cognizant of where we planted what and trying to make less trips across the fields,” he said. “Fuel is the biggest killer. It’s up tremendously.

“We have had to be smart with fertilizer but we have to have it. Fuel will hopefully come down before harvest when we really use a lot.”

Some farmers also decided not to plant on marginal land this year, Davis said.

“It was cheaper to just pay the rent and spray the weeds than to risk the high cost of production for a marginal chance of return,” Davis said.

There are signs that costs could improve.

“Fertilizer prices have not increased since the winter/spring price increases and, in some cases, have declined,” Davis said. “The price of urea, one of the nitrogen components in fertilizer blends, is down to some degree.”

“Other nitrogen components associated with petroleum remain high because of oil prices,” Davis continued. “There is little change in the price of potassium. Phosphorus prices are coming down slowly.

“Much of the slow decline in prices is due to transportation costs still being very high. Lime is still very expensive compared to the past, with transportation cost being the main factor.”

Fuel prices have more than doubled at the farm level since December with prices moving from the $2.50 to $5.50 per gallon range for farm diesel, Davis said.

“This has had a huge impact on the cost of production,” Davis said. “Farmers have been looking for ways to minimize trips across the field by tank mixing as many crop protection products as they can safely mix together to spray with one trip.”

On a brighter note, Davis said pesticide costs have remained stable since the spring planting season.

“Most of the cost increases were built in before planting and were due to shortages and increased transportation and production costs,” he said. “Some prices have come down, but most inventory will remain at current prices until they clear the system and new inventory is purchased for the next growing season.”

“New inventory prices for the coming year will be set in the coming months,” Davis said. “Generally speaking, the average farm saw about a 15% to 20% increase in pesticide costs this year.”

Jeffrey Kaigler, who farms in Orangeburg, Calhoun, Lexington and Dorchester counties, says input costs are “very, very high” but a crop “has to have a certain amount of fertilizer to produce.”

“You can trim a little bit, but I have to give the crop what it needs or it won’t give what I need,” Kaigler said.

Kaigler said some measures have been taken to conserve fuel.

“We are not just letting equipment run,” Kaigler said. “We try to make our trips count. That is about all we can do.”

If high input costs were not enough, farmers are also having to deal with the weather and typical growing challenges that come about each year.

Corn yields will vary across the region.

“There are pockets of dryland corn with near-average yield potential and then there are areas in which dryland yields will be near zero,” Orangeburg County Clemson Extension Agent Jonathan Croft said. “Irrigated corn for the most part looks to be average across the county.”

“In some irrigated fields, there will be yield reductions due to irrigation systems not being able to keep up with peak water demand this season,” Croft said.

Davis said the story on corn is the same in Calhoun County.

“It depends on which part of the county you are in, whether you are talking about dryland corn or irrigated corn, early planted corn or later planted corn,” David said. “Generally speaking, irrigated corn that was well watered looks to make a decent crop. Later planted irrigated corn may fare better, having missed some of the extreme heat that the earlier planted corn had to endure during pollination.”

“Dryland corn for the most part is very poor due to several weeks of extreme heat and no rainfall,” Davis continued. “In the sandier soils of the county, much of the dryland corn is a total loss.”

Kaigler, who planted about 1,200 acres of corn, says his 900 acres of dryland corn was hit hard during the June drought.

“Our corn suffered pretty good,” he said. “We are going to have insurance involved with dryland corn.”

The South Carolina Drought Response Committee determined June 30 that The T&D Region is in the first level of drought, otherwise known as incipient.

Recent showers and thunderstorms have been welcome as the rains have helped water thirsty crops.

Kaigler planted 700 acres of cotton, 650 acres of peanuts and 1,000 acres of soybeans

He noted the crops are all very young but have benefitted from recent rain.

“They are OK,” he said. “They are in pretty good shape.”

The crops need continued rain now, Croft said.

“We are at a point in the growing season with cotton, peanuts and soybeans that growers will be focusing on insect and disease control,” he said.

Davis echoed Croft’s assessment regarding the status of cotton, peanuts and soybeans.

“Cotton, peanuts and soybeans at this time are enjoying the warm temperatures and abundant afternoon rains and look to be in good condition going into the middle of summer,” Davis said.

“They were much smaller during this period of adverse weather and had lower water needs.

“There was some delayed germination and emergence issues due to dry soils and some delayed planting but generally, most crops eventually were planted.”

Over the next two weeks, forecasts are calling for near normal temperatures and above-normal rainfall. Looking out for the next three months, rainfall and temperatures are both forecast to be above normal.

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