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Soybean harvest runs strong

Possible record corn glut may create backup in Clark, Champaign.

Halfway into the soybean harvest, Clark and Champaign county farmers are enjoying strong yields, while elevators are bracing for a record corn crop expected to overtax the nation’s rail system.

Kirk Roetgerman, grain marketing services manager at Trupointe Cooperative’s South Charleston elevator, and Steve Bricher, Urbana Branch manager for Heritage Cooperative, both said soybean yields are running stronger than expected.

“Guys seem pleasantly surprised” with yields averaging near 57 bushels an acre, said Roetgerman, who estimated the South Charleston elevator has handled about 800,000 of the 1.5 million bushels it expects to receive.

“If we’d have caught another rain” in August, yields would have been better, added Bricher. But given the dry spell, farmers seem “very happy” with “well over average” results of 50-60 bushels an acre.

Although soybean prices have slid to $12.50 a bushel cash and about $13 on the futures market, Roetgerman said that should produce gross returns of between $700 and $750 per acre, which he said are good.

“But we’ve been spoiled the last couple of years” with high yields and returns he added.

Although the corn harvest is in its earliest stages, “from a national standpoint, we might be talking about an all-time record crop” of about 14 billion bushels, Roetgerman said.

Bricher expects the same locally.

“If it’s not a record crop for Champaign County, I’ll be surprised,” he said.

Although the few farmers who have harvested represent “a wide range” of yields (162-235 bushels an acre), local expectations are running at 185-190 bushels an acre, Roetgerman said.

In the face of those expectations, prices have dropped to $4.30 to $4.40 a bushel.

Roetgerman has been “a little shocked” at the high moisture content of the early corn. “Right now it’s in the 22-26 percent range,” he said.

Because it must be dried to 15.5 to 16 percent before air drying takes it down to 15 percent for storage, “I think the big challenge this year is going to be corn dryers keeping up with the large crop, whether it be on the farm or at the elevator,” said Roetgerman.

Bricher is not quite as worried.

“It’s a little high for this time of year,” he said, but “with another good week of weather,” moisture content may drop in the 18-20 percent range, at which it dries faster and handles more easily, whether at the elevator or at farmers’ private storage bins.

Drying also represents an expense it also cuts into the final amount farmers are paid for their grain.

Bricher’s bigger worry is that a record corn harvest likely will produce backups.

“The farmer today can harvest his crop in three weeks,” he said. “The grain system (largely reliant on trains) is designed to handle the crop over a six-week period.”

“It just becomes a logistical issue, especially when you’re looking at a record crop. It’s just going to take time.”

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