From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
In my experience as a farmer, I know where you start is often not where you end.
The very nature of agriculture dictates that farmers start the year with a degree of optimism, hopeful that the weather will cooperate, that yields will be strong and that prices will be up.
Then there is the long growing season in between, that time when things take unexpected turns, when appropriate amounts of rain give way to weeks of wet weather and when the season goes from promising to problematic, or maybe downright horrid.
For a number of North Carolina farmers, I probably just described 2015.
In October, some were likely looking for the spigot to turn off as rain poured onto fields, forcing equipment to stay out of them while crops sat drenched, waiting to be harvested.
I have heard similar stories from a number of farmers across the state, and the recent release of the 2015 crop summary by the U.S. Department of Agriculture supports everything I have heard.
Most crops saw decreased yields and drops in production, certainly not good news. Sweet potatoes proved to be the exception with increased acreage and increased production overall, despite lower yields per acre.
Sweet potato farmers harvested 86,000 acres, up 14,000 from 2014, with production up 3 percent at 16.3 million hundredweight. The crop saw record yields of 220 hundredweight per acre in 2014, which dropped to 190 hundredweight in 2015.
Corn, cotton, peanuts, soybeans and tobacco all saw production numbers drop in 2015, running 17 to 48 percent lower than 2014 numbers, although most were still close or just below the 10-year averages.
Harvested corn acreage was down 50,000 acres to 730,000, with production at 82.5 million bushels. That was 20 percent lower than in 2014.
Harvested cotton acreage was 385,000, down 75,000 from 2014, with production at 522,000 bales or 48 percent below production in 2015.
Farmers harvested 88,000 acres of peanuts in 2015, down 5,000 acres from the previous year. Production dropped 26 percent from 2014 to 299.2 million pounds.
Soybean production was down 17 percent from 2014 to 57.3 million bushels, harvested from 1.79 million acres. Harvested acreage was actually up by 60,000 in 2015, making the drop in production even more significant.
Production of flue-cured tobacco dropped 17 percent to 374 million pounds, and burley production decreased 30 percent to 1.9 million pounds. Total harvested tobacco acreage was 171,000 acres in 2015, down 22,400 acres from 2014.
I saw a recent report on the Southern Farm Network talking about soybeans still in the field as of mid-January. N.C. State University Extension Soybean Specialist Dr. Jim Dunphy noted at press time that there is still a market for damaged beans, albeit a discounted one.
Dunphy added that another issue that we could possibly see in 2016 as a result of the poor 2015 season is the lack of soybean seed, perhaps for select varieties. We will likely have a better understanding of the situation later this month.
As farmers are considering their options for 2016, I am hopeful we have a better growing and harvesting season than we did in 2015.
I hope to see you at an upcoming commodity meeting or at the Ag Development Conference Feb. 4 at the State Fairgrounds, where I will deliver my annual State of Agriculture address.