State's Corn Acreage Rising -- For Cattle, Not Refineries

US - Matching a national trend, California farmers plan to sow nearly 20 percent more corn this year than last, an increase of 100,000 acres and a state record. But unlike in the rest of the country, most of the new plantings here are driven by the need to feed cattle, not ethanol refineries.
calendar icon 2 April 2007
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"I'm not going to rent more ground, but I'm going to plant every acre available,"

In the past year, demand for corn to feed refineries as well as a robust export outlook have pushed corn prices to their highest levels since the late 1990s. Industry experts say the prices aren't high enough for most farmers to plant corn for ethanol. But they are high enough that planting corn is one way for livestock producers to cut their feed costs.

"Prices would have to be extraordinarily high in order to harvest (corn) for grain" to be used in ethanol plants, said Joel Karlan, product manager for Western Milling, a major feed company based near Visalia.

According to data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers nationwide are planting 90.5 million acres this year, up 15 percent from last year. That would be the most acres planted since 1944, the department said.

Because yields per acre have risen dramatically since World War II, this year's crop should be the most abundant ever, barring widespread weather damage.

Though a powerhouse in many crops, California is a minor corn producer, accounting for about 0.7 percent -- 620,000 acres -- of the national acreage this year.

But the price of corn still matters to the state's farm industry, because it is used to feed millions of cattle and chickens here. California's nation-leading dairy industry sold $5.3 billion in milk in 2005. Dairy producers who depend on rail cars of corn from the Midwest have complained for months about the impact of the ethanol boom on their industry.

Galt-area dairy farmer Case van Steyn said he plans to respond to the higher prices by planting more corn -- about 5 percent to 10 percent more.

"I'm not going to rent more ground, but I'm going to plant every acre available," he said. Van Steyn said feed costs about $5 per day for each cow.

Since the 1980s, most of the state's corn has been harvested not for its kernels but for silage, where the entire corn plant is chopped up and fed to cattle.

Source: Sacramento Bee
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