SPRING GROVE, Va. — Many growers in Virginia plant corn, so obviously they like the crop. But raising corn in any year is a risky pursuit. Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate every season, leaving a small window of opportunity until maturity.
Calvin Clements of Spring Grove benefited from a good crop of corn last year because of timely rains. “The No. 1 factor in raising a quality crop of corn is water, water, water,” he says.
Yield on his 430 acres of corn isn’t the best in the state, but Clements says corn is a good rotation crop for him, one he will include in his crop plans for 2013. He rotates the corn with his peanut crop and also raises wheat and soybeans. He likes to grow corn because “it’s a pretty easy crop to grow,” he says. “In other words, as long as I’ve been farming I kind of know it’s going to do this, it’s going to fit and do that.”
For example, he doesn’t raise cotton, but if he threw it into his rotation mix he doesn’t know how it would fit with the rest of his crops as far as scheduling, planting, growing and harvesting. He says corn just pays off despite the low profit at times.
“In other words, it just works with my system,” he says. “I wouldn’t say it’s for the profit because on a dry year there’s no profit. But it’s a pretty easy crop to grow if you can just get some rain to make a profit, a decent crop.”
Even though dry weather is a risk for corn, Clements doesn’t irrigate it because the water sources don’t exist. Instead, he relies on the soils where he farms in the three counties of Surry, Prince George and Sussex. Most of the land is within 15 miles of his home farm in Surry.
When planting corn, he tries to stay clear of the lighter soils. He says the land in Prince George has a heavier soil as well as some of the land near the James River that his wife’s parents own. Both are good grain-growing soils with a little more clay, meaning they hold moisture and give corn that longer growth boost than land that dries out quickly. He believes that additional moisture gives him an edge over other corn growers. The extra moisture keeps his corn growing instead of shriveling up on the stalk during a drought period.
Normally he harvests about Labor Day, but last year he started around Aug. 30. Picking went along fairly smoothly, except for some rain in late August. “It was a good crop but high moisture,” he said. “So drying took longer. And it cost more. We had to pick certain areas and leave certain areas.”
To market his corn, Clements contracts with a local elevator, Wakefield Farm Service, and hauls it on his semitrailers to Murphy Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc. However, when he gets busy with other farm chores he will ask the local elevator to pick it up.
Clements will keep growing and hauling his corn as long as it fits into his crop rotation. The ease of growth makes Mother Nature’s unpredictability bearable.