HARRISON, Ark. – The broad limestone shoulders of the Arkansas Ozarks are sprouting something more than rocks and cattle. They now bear a row crop.
Some farmers in Benton, Boone and Washington counties are finding that the best solution to the modern problem of rising fuel and feed prices is one that’s a half-century-old: growing their own corn. Many, but not all of those getting in to the corn business, are cattle producers whose herds rely on corn for silage or straight grain feed. One grower, with several hundred acres, sells his grain as feed for a nearby turkey operation.
“For these farmers, it used to be cheaper to buy the corn than to grow it,” said Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains specialist for the Division of Agriculture.
“With $4-a-gallon fuel that keeps on rising and the high cost of transportation for feed, they took a step back in time,” said Mike McClintock, Boone County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “The growers tell me that corn was raised here 50-60 years ago.”
That corn disappeared over the decades, along with the local dairy and swine operations. Some of the tall, tasseled plants began reappearing as early as 2007 in Benton County.
However, “three years ago, they all got started as an experiment,” McClintock said of his Boone County producers. “We had rain and the conditions were ideal.”
The results were encouraging. “We had 180-bushel corn produced,” McClintock said. That was 32 bushels-an-acre better than the state average yield in 2009. Not a bad way to begin a resurgence.
Growing corn in the Ozarks does have its challenges. Unlike their counterparts in the Delta who farm thousands of acres of broad, sweeping flatland, Ozark growers have smaller, hillier plots that are mostly 50 acres or less. It also means that the 12-row planter that works so well in Chicot County won’t do so well in Boone County.
“This land isn’t conducive to extra large equipment,” McClintock said. “The equipment they’re using might be 25 years old and because it’s smaller, it fits the area better.
“’We had some get an older four-row planter going,” he said. “I have some of them picking it with an old tractor and a two-row ear picker.
McClintock said “Some people may make fun of that, but the cost of the equipment is nil compared with the $200,000 piece of equipment used elsewhere.”