Farmers hope for another good year

Price trends suggest more soybeans, fewer sweet potatoes will be planted

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Wilson County farmers have started planting tobacco, a sign that spring is right around the corner.

“It’s the time of year when everybody is getting cranked up and ready to go for another year, beginning to seed greenhouses, getting them ready for seeding,” said David Hinnant of R.J. Hinnant and Sons Farms in the Buckhorn community. “It’s just February, but it’s time for us to start.”

“In our farming operation, tobacco is still our main crop,” Hinnant said. “We grow a little over 300 acres of tobacco, and tobacco still brings in almost half of our income in our farming operations.”

To do that, the farm will plant about 8,000 trays of tobacco seeds. Each tray has 338 cells. The potential is there for between 2.4 and 2.7 million plants to germinate.

“We are always optimistic that we are going to have a good year,” Hinnant said. “Once contracts are signed and everybody knows how many acres they are growing, then we kind of settle in to make sure we produce a crop.”

Hinnant left Saturday for a one-week trip to Brazil with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

“We are going down to start off in the Santa Cruz area, which is the tobacco region of Brazil. We kind of need to check out what our competition is and what our competition is doing and what the crop is like down there because they are still in the harvest season in Brazil right now,” he said. “Brazil has always been, especially in the tobacco part of it, way behind as far as mechanization and how they handle the crop versus what it in the U.S., so I’m looking forward to seeing how much it’s changed in the last 25 years.”

While farmers in Wilson County had a generally good year in 2017, a second good year in 2018 will be needed to make up for two poor years in agriculture in 2016 and 2015.

“We certainly needed the year we had in 2017 to rebound from the ’15 and ’16 crops, but unfortunately we can’t rebound all the way in one year, so it is again critical that we have another good season for our growers in 2018,” said Norman Harrell, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County.

According to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, eastern North Carolina and Wilson County will have a 33 percent chance of higher than normal temperatures and a 33 percent chance of lower than average precipitation for the next three months. The U.S. Drought Outlook suggests that through April 30, drought development is likely for Wilson County.

Harrell said less rain will probably have minimal affects on farmers.

“It will probably allow for field preparations to be completely timely,” Harrell said. “It appears that we have had a relatively dry winter and our water table is a little lower than normal, but the last two weeks, it seems like we have had a lot of overcast, rainy-type days, so that has helped in bringing our water table back to normal.”

“We will certainly have greater capacity to absorb water from a big rain event,” Harrell said. “Hopefully we won’t get 8 inches of rain at one time like we did last April, but you never know in dealing with Mother Nature.”

THE growing SEASON

Greenhouse seeding signals the tobacco season with much work ahead in coming months.

“I anticipate our tobacco acres to be about the same as last year, or flat,” Harrell said.

Wilson had 9,818 acres of tobacco planted in 2017.

“There could be some reallocations of pounds with growers. It just kind of depends on who they were contracted with, but overall, I anticipate the tobacco acreage to be about the same as last year.”

According to Harrell, sweet potatoes, another main commodity crop in Wilson County county with 9,814 acres in 2017, may see a reduction in acres this year primarily due to price.

“There seem to be a lot of sweet potatoes on the market right now, and growers indicate that the price has been dropping,” Harrell said. “Unless they run out of sweet potatoes in storage, there is really nothing to run the price back up, so we will probably see a reduction in planted acreage in sweet potatoes.”

Harrell thinks there will be an increase in 2018 over the more than 9,800 acres planted in soybeans in 2017 in Wilson County.

Soybeans account for the largest acreage crop in Wilson County.

“Last year’s crop is always on a grower’s mind because it’s the freshest thing that they can remember,” Harrell said. “We had a really good soybean crop last year, so I feel like the growers will feel optimistic that they can have another good soybean year. I feel like we will see acres of soybeans go up and the price with soybeans will help justify that. There is a decent price on soybeans right now.”

Harrell said that corn acres will probably be flat to possibly slightly down this year.

“Overall, the price of corn is relatively low even thought it has rallied here lately, but it’s got to rally more here for corn to gain acres,” Harrell said.

Wilson County had 10,061 acres of corn in 2017.

Cotton could see an increase over the 7,329 acres planted in 2017.

“We really have a lot of infrastructure to grow a lot more cotton than we do,” Harrell said. “Growers have back off due to low prices, but prices seemed to have rallied and stabilized. Our growers here know how to grow cotton, so I think we will see some acres possibly come out of corn and potatoes and go into cotton production.”

Wilson County only grew 2,500 acres of peanuts in 2017, and 2018 could see even less.

“I anticipate peanut acres going down in the county,” Harrell said. “There was a huge peanut crop U.S.-wide and there is a lot of carryover stocks, so I think we will see the shellers respond and there will probably be a reduction in contracts and a reduction in price on peanuts. Peanuts are grown on contract, and those companies normally provide the seed, so that somewhat limits what a grower can plant in peanuts.”

Acres in wheat and grain sorghum will likely remain flat in Wilson County.

“My initial impression is we would be about the same as last year,” Harrell said.

Greenhouses and nurseries in Wilson County may be on the increase in 2018. Gardens Alive, formerly Zelenka, has new management and is on a path toward growth.

“The only change in nurseries is that Gardens Alive has kind of gone through some restructuring and they are trying to get things stabilized out, so hopefully we will see Gardens Alive increase their volume for 2018,” Harrell said.

In terms of livestock, growers with chickens, turkeys and pigs, are usually on contract, so that is pretty stable year-to-year, Harrell said.

“I would expect for livestock to be similar in 2018,” Harrell said.

Wilson County has 1,388 farms with 90,275 total farm acres. Earnings from Wilson County agriculture in 2017 were $144,871,587, with flue-cured tobacco leading the way with $49,215,769 in sales.