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October 23, 2012

S.E. Minn.'s corn harvest comes in early, piled high

Forecasts about how good the corn harvest would be in parts of southeastern Minnesota have turned out to be wrong.

It is a lot better than anyone dared to predict.

In contrast to the rest of the drought-blasted Midwest, the area's rain-favored fields are bursting with a cornucopia of corn.

10232012cornharvest"I believe this is one of the largest harvests ever, if not the largest, for this area," said Tim Clemens, Greenway Cooperative's general manager. Greenway runs grain elevators  in Byron, Kasson, Dodge Center and West Concord. That puts Greenway's elevators right in the middle of the local corn boom.

With about 95 percent of this year's unusually early harvest completed, farmers are bringing in an average of 170 bushels per acre, with prices running more than $7 a bushel.

Ryan Buck, vice president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, farms more than 1,000 acres on a family farm in Goodhue County. He said he has already wrapped up the corn harvest, about three weeks earlier than last year. Last year's crop was "very good," but this year's harvest far exceeds it.

"Much of southeastern Minnesota is kind of a Garden of Eden," Buck said. "The quality of the corn this year is the best I've ever seen."

Clemens said all of Greenway's 5 million bushels of storage, plus more stored in related facilities, is full of grain. That's despite recently adding 1.1 million more bushels in storage.

Greenway has about a quarter million bushels on the ground outside storage bins, he said. Storing outside costs farmers and the cooperative money by lowering the value of the corn. That's not a big deal when corn is selling for $3 a bushel, but it's significant at this season's high prices.

He said the corn harvest is running 10 percent to 15 percent better than even the most optimistic forecasts. That's following a bumper crop of soybeans, which filled more grain bins than expected.

Another twist to this historic harvest is that it is happening so early. Harvests often extend into late November, but this harvest is expected to be mostly done by the end of this month.

"Everyone was kind of caught with their pants down with this harvest," Clemens said. "It is exploding. It is coming in faster than ever before."

While local grain elevators are bursting at the seams, this is an oasis amid a desert of drought-stunted fields across the Midwest. The drought is driving up prices, and grain rationing is being discussed by U.S. agriculture officials. Some livestock and dairy producers are selling off animals because they can't afford to feed them. Some ethanol plants are halting production.

"It certainly hasn't been all roses for everyone," Buck said. "This was kind of a fluke year. That's kind of the beauty of farming. No two harvests are ever the same."

That means that area farmers are in the unheard-of position of having more grain than usual just as prices are running high. Still, that doesn't add up to winning the lottery, because farmers' costs for seed, fertilizer, fuel and most everything else are also higher this year.

Much of this year's corn probably won't be sold for the sky-high prices. Farmers often contract early in the year to sell their future grain at a certain price. That means that despite the high prices, a lot of the bounty from this area could be sold for $5 to $6 a bushel.

However, there is no question that it is much better to be bringing in a record harvest than scraping together grain from drought-blighted farms, like the majority of U.S. grain farmers are doing.

As the harvest rolls to its end, the push is shifting toward figuring out how to ship all of this high-dollar corn out to buyers.

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