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Corn price at record high, but local yields 'awfully variable'

University of Minnesota Regional Extension Educator Lisa Behnken shows an ear of drought-stressed corn Wednesday in a cornfield near Rochester Community and Technical College.

New data indicate that much of southeastern Minnesota is headed for a good corn yield, while most of the state's crop is down, and the nation's crop is in abysmal shape.

In the Austin area, many farmers are likely to see below-average harvests.

"It is awfully variable," said Mike Merten, who farms southwest of Austin and is a member of the Mower County Corn and Soybean Growers board of directors. "A few areas have caught a few more showers. And in places with better soil types, the crop is OK. But nothing is going to be real good."

Researchers with the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour , which for 20 years has accumulated late-season data for the agriculture industry, announced last week that southeastern Minnesota will average a statewide-best 194 bushels of corn an acre. That’s up from the district’s three-year average of 186 bushels an acre.

Meanwhile, the organization determined that the average corn yield throughout the state will plummet to 156 bushels an acre, compared to a three-year average of 182 bushels.


"It’s really tough to paint an exact picture" of corn yields, said University of Minnesota Regional Extension Educator Ryan Miller on Wednesday. "It was such a weird year, with one of the hottest Marches on record — so farmers planted a lot of corn early — and then we came into one of the hottest summers."

A dry spell from early June to mid-July, caused by a moisture-blocking high pressure system, devastated corn around the nation. Dry conditions have continued — the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor issued Thursday morning shows that 36 percent of Minnesota is in drought, including parts of Mower, Fillmore and Houston counties. By contrast, all of Iowa is in drought, and 63 percent of the United States.

Within southeastern Minnesota, crop potential is varying widely, Miller said. For example, a pocket of land from the Hayfield area to Goodhue County looks good, while much of Mower County looks dry.

Added Merten, "You're going to have good and very poor (yields) in the same field."

Variations are similar in the Mankato area, said Extension Educator Brad Carlson. "You can drive 10 miles, and the crops look completely different," he said.

Part of the reason farmers in southern Minnesota and even northern Iowa are doing better than most corn-producing states is the richer soil.

Chip Flory, of the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour, said the expensive farmland in the upper Midwest can withstand drought better than land in places such as Nebraska. He also said genetics have improved, making corn more drought-resistant than it was during the drought of 1988.

Valuable corn


The nationwide drought has driven corn prices to record highs of over $8 a bushel, and many farmers in southeastern Minnesota are likely to reap big profits. However, some farmers won’t benefit from the record prices because they sold their crops by contract in spring or early summer, before corn prices skyrocketed.

Merten said he’s been finding misconceptions about profits in the Mower County area.

"In the back of everyone’s mind, they think, ‘Half the crop at twice the price,’" he said. "But it’s not that simple."

The hot weather is also affecting the time of the corn harvest, Carlson said. Farmers in southeastern Minnesota farmers are likely to start harvesting as early as next week, especially if the current heat wave continues through the weekend.

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