Corn field

Tommy Young and his nephews Blake and Jim grow rice, corn, wheat and soybeans on their farm in Northeast Arkansas.

“Out of all the grain crops that we grow on our farm, we’re most passionate about corn because it gives us so many other benefits,” he says.

And he’s among many Arkansas farmers to realize it. The state’s corn acreage has more than doubled since 2010 to reach 855,00 million acres in 2013, according to data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Meanwhile, cotton acres as of 2013 are estimated to have declined to 300,000 acres, a 73 percent drop from the 20-year high of 1.17 million acres in 2006. Even rice acreage in the last four growing seasons has dropped 41 percent from its 20-year peak in 2010.

Basic economics and agronomic benefits put corn in a more prominent place in Arkansas’s rural landscape. By comparison, cotton and rice are expensive to plant and require more equipment and labor to grow. Corn has shown more profitable opportunities in recent years. And as Arkansas farmers add more corn acres to their farm, they praise the agronomic and management results they see.

Farmers like corn’s benefits to other crops including: its reduced tillage options; improved weed control; and their farms’ slimmer demands in labor, equipment and management.

“Corn actually increases the yield on all three crops,” says Young, whose family rotates corn, wheat and soybeans in their fields.

Soybean and wheat yields have increased 50 and 65 percent respectively in 10 years, he says. Meanwhile, their corn yields have doubled since they started planting the crop in 1981.

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Likewise, Davis Bell, who farms with his sons, Ryan and Greg, in East-Central Arkansas, says corn in rotation with soybeans has increased production, improved weed control and provided new opportunities for profitability.

The family once grew rice and soybeans, adding corn to the rotation in 1985. Today, they grow just corn and soybeans.

When their corn acreage expanded, they added more irrigation and on-farm grain storage. They haul corn to a feed mill that serves the poultry industry, a big consumer of Arkansas corn. Bell and Young agree: Corn will remain an important segment of Arkansas agriculture in the future. “As far as I can see, corn is here to stay in the state of Arkansas,” Young says.

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