Good weather grows excellent corn crop

Farmers report rising yields for feed and food

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Mary Whitcomb walks between the towering stalks of her corn maze, proudly showing off their impressive height – 13 feet – and girth – thicker than saplings.

Whitcomb, of North Williston Cattle Co., and other local farmers are enjoying a bumper crop of corn this year, especially when compared to last year’s weather-stunted harvest.

Williston and Richmond farmers say this year’s crop will produce considerably more corn and feed, with estimated increases in yield ranging from 30-50 percent.

“Last year was a disaster,” said Dave Conant of Conant’s Riverside Farm, which straddles the Williston-Richmond town line along U.S. 2. “This year has been just about exactly the opposite.”

Sunny, warm weather with just enough rain to keep soil damp provided the perfect conditions for a superb corn crop, farmers say. They are growing taller, bushier plants that produce more ears of sweet, juicy corn or more feed for their cattle.

Lorenzo Whitcomb, Mary’s husband, said he expects this year’s crop to produce about 26-28 tons of feed. Last year’s crop – the Whitcombs grow only “cow corn” used exclusively for feed – produced roughly 18-20 tons.

Other farmers report similarly good corn crops. Conant figures his yield could be up 50 percent. He said it might be the best crop he’s seen in more than a decade.

Ashley Farr, co-owner of the Farr farm on Huntington Road in Richmond, suffered through flooded fields last year. This year, he thinks his corn yield will jump about 35 percent.

In addition to plenty of feed, North Williston Cattle Co. this year has produced a particularly good corn maze, which opens this weekend.

Mary Whitcomb said a corn variety named “Big Bubba” produced stalks so thick and high that they form virtual walls. Last year, she said, those walls were considerably smaller.

With much of the corn yet to be harvested, precise numbers for this year’s crop are not available. But Kelly Loftus, spokeswoman for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said preliminary reports indicate farmers are producing an “excellent” corn crop this year.

A total of 1,000 acres on about 200 farms are cultivated for corn in Vermont, Loftus said.

Corn is a key crop for farmers. In addition to selling ears through farm markets and grocery stores, farmers use chopped-up corn to feed cows and other livestock.

A good crop holds down the price of feed for farmers who don’t grow enough corn to nourish their livestock. A below-par crop drives up feed prices, which can hurt farmers’ bottom lines.

“If you don’t have corn to feed cows, then they won’t produce milk,” said Mary Whitcomb. “And milk prices are really good for farmers right now.”

Last year, weeks of wet weather in May and June led to Vermont being declared a primary natural disaster area by the federal government, making farmers eligible for low-interest emergency loans. The state provided $8.9 million in emergency aid to farmers.

Flooding forced Riverside Farm to reseed dozens of acres of cornfields, at a cost of $100 an acre. Other farmers also saw their corn crops stunted by the unfavorable weather.

Farr said last year was rough for him, too, although “compared to folks in Addison and Franklin counties, we didn’t have it too bad.”

Last year, Vermont farmers produced a total of 96,000 pounds of corn. That was about average, Loftus said, although she acknowledged the data might not accurately reflect the travails of individual farmers.

“Last year was about average,” Loftus said. “We do expect it to be more this year.”