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Golden Corn Crop Faces Storage Peril

Georgia farmers finally have something to cheer about. They're harvesting a truly golden crop.

"We're looking at a corn crop for '96 that's about half again as valuable as in '95," said George Shumaker, an economist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

Georgia farmers and economists expect the corn crop to be worth about $157 million this year. Shumaker said last year's crop, while good, totaled $102 million.

Georgia farmers plan to harvest about 190,000 acres more corn than last year, he said. An overall yield of 97 bushels per acre, up from 90 in 1995, will boost the statewide crop.

"I advised a lot of farmers to sell their corn in late July and August when prices were high, and a lot did," Shumaker said. "Prices are in a dip right now during harvest. But if farmers can store their corn and manage it carefully, they can see more profitable prices closer to the new year."

That price dip is partly due to farmers' harvesting the third largest U.S. crop in history. Shumaker said Georgia's crop isn't record-setting, but it's good.

Dewey Lee, an extension agronomist, said Georgia yields were amazingly high. "We saw a lot of yield loss, especially in east Georgia, from a lack of water," he said. "But irrigated fields had great yields."

But even while Georgia farmers harvest their crop, tiny maize weevils may be devouring it right under their noses.

Many farmers left their corn in the field for several weeks after it was ready to harvest. Lee said the longer it stays in the field, the more likely weevils will invade.

"It's an easy food source for them," he said. "The adults fly into the field and lay their eggs in the corn kernels. The larvae mature in the kernel and emerge as adults."

The larvae eat out the inside of the kernel, leaving a powdery residue. They emerge as adults through tiny, clean-edged holes. Adult weevils are eighth-inch- long, black insects with a distinct snout.

Steve L. Brown, an extension entomologist, said he's seen maize weevils in nearly every corn field he's been in.

"The numbers are high this year," he said. "And if they're in the field, then farmers are putting infested corn into storage."

Brown and Lee said storing corn in the Southeast isn't easy. Warm weather and humidity can damage corn and make conditions ideal for insects to thrive in corn bins where food is plentiful.

The county extension office gives farmers details on storing and protecting corn in Georgia.

Lee said timely harvest is one way to keep weevils out of stored corn. "But even before harvest, farmers must get bins ready for storage," he said.

"The real problem comes when the adult weevils emerge from kernels inside the bin and start mating and laying eggs," he said. He tells farmers to inspect their corn for weevils every week for two months, then monthly after that.

When weevils emerge, fumigation offers the only option for control. "It's not cheap to do," Brown said. "But it can save the grain."

Once the grain is infested, its value for feeding livestock drops quickly. The insects eat the corn, leaving very little weight and nutrition.

Shumaker said too many farmers put the corn in the bin and forget it. But if weevils get to a farmer's stored corn, he can forget about profits, too.

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