WASHINGTON – Maryland farmers posted record corn and soybean yields in 2000, with corn jumping 67 percent over drought-depressed 1999 levels and soybeans surging 34 percent, according to new U.S. Agriculture Department figures.
The figures released this week also showed sharp increases in overall production during the period, with corn up 88 percent, rising from 33.5 million bushels to 62.8 million bushels, and soybean production up 44 percent, jumping from 15.4 million to 22.1 million bushels.
Despite the good news, many farmers continue to struggle with long-term problems of high costs and low profit margins, according to several agricultural agents on the Eastern Shore.
“Clearly, it was a record-setting year because all the critical elements came together,” said Don Vandrey, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. “We had rain when we needed it, and we had dry weather when the farmers needed to harvest the crops.”
Corn yields rose from 93 bushels per acre in 1999 to 155 bushels per acre in 2000, and soybean yields rose 34 percent from 32 bushels per acre in 1999 to 43 bushels per acre in 2000, the report said. Both were records.
Vandrey said that the much higher yields meant many farmers fared better in 2000 than in 1999.
“The volume of corn and soybeans was such that most farmers were making at least some profit,” he said.
But while extension agents agreed that most farmers made at least a small profit in 2000, they say that many farmers still face difficult financial conditions.
“Prices in 2000 for corn were still low,” said Eddie Johnson, the Wicomico County agricultural agent for the University of Maryland’s Cooperative Extension program. “Farmers made a profit, but it doesn’t make up for the previous year when there was a drought.”
Johnson said that corn was selling for $1.92 per bushel in 2000 compared to $3.15 per bushel in 1997. With production costs averaging $1.60 per bushel, he said the farmers in his Corn Improvement Club made only 32 cents per bushel. He added that some Wicomico farmers earned more, while others were forced to sell at a loss.
Somerset County agricultural agent Anne-Meredith Webster said that her county’s farmers had to rely on increased volume through higher yields to make any profits.
“The only way any farmer made any money was because of volume,” Webster said.
At a 30-cent profit on every bushel, for example, a farmer producing 200 bushels of corn per acre would only earn $60 per acre.
“This still isn’t a lot,” Webster said. “This has to go to all his expenses — personal, payment for land, machinery, mortgages, insurance.”
John Hall, who has been the Kent County extension agent for 20 years, said that 2000 was only a “break-even” year and it follows losses through most of the 1990s.
“For corn, wheat and soybean production, our best farmers have had negative cash flow for six out of the last eight years,” Hall said.
Hall estimates the break-even price was $1.91 per bushel of corn and $4.75 per bushel of soybeans.
Hall said that one long-term solution he is studying is to find ways for Maryland farmers to sell their crops for human consumption. Right now, he said, all corn and soybean crops produced in Maryland are used for poultry and livestock feed.