Even with profitable prices likely for at least the immediate future, Texas corn and grain sorghum producers face significant challenges as they consider long-term research and marketing opportunities.
“Our key issue in corn is aflatoxin,” said Hill County farmer Albert Sulak, moderator for the grain session at the recent Blackland Income Growth Conference in Waco, Texas.
“We have few tools,” said Scott Averhoff, a Waxahachie farmer and chairman of the Texas Corn Producers Board. “We have no genetic resistance, and though some agronomic characteristics may help (reduce aflatoxin contamination) they are inconsistent.”
He said atoxigenic products (currently Afla-Guard and AF-36) “are not perfect but result in a significant reduction. We view these as insurance policies,” he said. “We apply them before a problem exists. The process needs refinement.”
Averhoff said remediation is another possibility but one that has not been approved in the U.S. “They can use it in Africa but we can’t use it here. We need regulatory approval.”
Remediation doesn’t involve resistance but consists of a clay-like material that bonds the aflatoxin in animal rations and makes it pass through the digestive system.
He said TCPB has worked diligently to help farmers and the Texas corn industry. “We were able to get a second corn breeder ten years ago.”
He also mentioned ongoing work with ethanol. “I had the opportunity to help test a cob harvester,” he said. The harvester may offer an opportunity to use cobs for cellulosic ethanol.
Wayne Cleveland, executive director, Texas Grain Sorghum Board, said grain producers face the reality of a rapidly growing world population that will demand farmers produce more food on fewer acres.
“In 1960, the world population was 3 billion,” Cleveland said. “In 2010, it hit 6 billion and by 2050, population will be 9.4 billion.
“The world consists of 37 billion acres, of which 7.6 billion are arable. That’s 5 acres per person and 1.5 acres to live on. By 2050, that acreage will shrink to half an acre to live on, so we need to triple production.” Cleveland said it takes one to two acres for a sustainable diet.
Tripling production, he said, is not just a choice. “We have to do it.”
He said production will need to get closer to record yields to accomplish that goal. Top yield for cotton has been 7.3 bales per acre, 442 bushels per acre for corn and 375 bushels per acre for grain sorghum.
He also sees grain sorghum playing a larger role in feeding the world, but admits to big challenges.
“Sorghum acreage has declined from 18 million 25 years ago to 5 million today. Something is not working.” He said farmers plant sorghum when they are “forced to,” as a result of a failed cotton crop or other environmental factor that encourages the switch.
“Currently, seven products use grain sorghum,” he said. “There have to be more things than that.”
Cleveland said producer check-off funds are being used for research and marketing. A referendum currently underway would continue that program. “Currently, we have a $6 million budget; that’s somewhere between strawberries and mushrooms.”