Minnesota Farmers See High Corn Yields
Sept. 13–Officially, Minnesota has the best corn in the Corn Belt. Yields should average 156 bushels an acre — tops in the U.S.
But farmers say the statewide average doesn’t reflect the crazy-quilt patchwork they’re seeing — from bumper crops to withered fields — after a strange and scorching summer.
This week, Jerry Demmer harvested a cornfield in southern Minnesota, which yielded a puny 118 bushels an acre. Then to his astonishment, his next field produced a stellar 185 bushels an acre.
“The fields are only a mile apart,” Demmer said. “That’s the variance we have, not only field to field, but also up and down the same field.”
Extreme stress from a hot and dry year has generated similar tales around the state. For lucky
farmers whose soils held water well or who were blessed by a passing thunderstorm, 2012 will be remembered as the best of times — a season of bountiful harvests and record grain prices.
But for many Minnesota farmers, it’s a more mixed picture. Overall, the state escaped the worst of this year’s drought that spread throughout the Midwest, but not every farm did.
“At the end of the day, I think we were just too warm and too dry for too long during the growing season, which cut into that final yield,” said Kent Thiesse, a farm management specialist and banker in Lake Crystal. “We’re going to see a wide variation in yields.”
How wide? When farmers are checking yield monitors in their combines, Thiesse said he heard “the screen will
say anywhere from 20 bushels to 200 bushels.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its September crop production forecast. After the worst drought in decades, U.S. corn production was forecast to be a disappointing 123 bushels an acre.
Minnesota has clearly fared far better than most states. Its forecast of an average 156 bushels an acre is the highest among the major corn-growing states, and it means $9 billion worth of corn awaits the combines — a colossal payday for many farmers this fall.
Corn prices in Chicago have risen near $8 a bushel, and soybean prices are above $17. The grain industry is clamoring for grain, and Minnesota is one of the few states to get anything close to a normal crop.
For many Minnesota corn farmers, Thiesse said, “I would think the year will turn out pretty good.”
Of course, soaring grain prices don’t look so good to corn buyers. For livestock operators, food companies and other countries, rising grain costs are no cause for celebration.
Tim Emslie, research manager at Country Hedging, a unit of CHS Inc., said “$8 (a bushel) corn is its own disaster, if you’re a user.”
Emslie said rising prices have scrambled normal patterns. Hog producers are losing so much money that they’re taking animals to slaughter in large numbers. Some beef producers are liquidating herds. And overseas, soybean buyers are rushing into the market, to lock up purchases before anything else happens.
In the end, Emslie knows the ultimate impact for consumers: “Anticipate some higher meat prices.”
Meanwhile, the fall harvest is getting into full swing several weeks earlier than usual. That’s another oddity in a growing season that was filled with them, ranging from a hot spring to May floods, a summer drought and searing heat.
“It’s quite variable out there, but on average, it’s looking OK,” said Jeff Coulter, corn specialist at the University of Minnesota.
“The stalk quality is very poor on a lot of fields (due to the drought), so the stalks are falling over, basically, and that’s going to cause some issues with harvest. But by the end of the week, everybody’s going to be going full-steam on the stuff that’s ready.”
Demmer, who farms near Clarks Grove in Freeborn County, is bracing for more surprises. He’s still amazed that some of his fields turned out so well, after drought and heat suffocated the region near the Iowa border.
“It’s 15 bushels (an acre) better than what I thought we’d get,” Demmer said. “I would never, ever have guessed it would be that high.”