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Corn crunch

WORTHINGTON -- Autumn. It's the time of year when southwest Minnesota's landscape changes from its ordinarily flat prairie ground with slightly rolling hills to, well, flat prairie ground dotted with massive, golden-yellow mountains.

Corn mountains.

One of the biggest around may just be outside of Lake Wilson, where more than 3 million bushels of corn have been poured on rented alfalfa ground, according to Prins Grain Co. president David Prins. Corn from his facility in Chandler, along with that from Schmitz Grain facilities in Lake Wilson and Currie, is being stored at the site.

"We're not finished yet, either," said Prins, adding that his company has had to open-store about 50 percent more corn this harvest season than a year ago.

"There's two reasons for that," he said. "There was a lot of corn on hand at the start of the harvest, and this is probably the biggest harvest we've had."

Most of the corn piled at the site will be hauled to the ethanol plant in Marshall, but even so, Prins said it will likely be "some time in February" before they get all of the grain hauled out. Until then, the corn will be exposed to the elements.

"We need good weather -- no moisture," Prins said. "Probably the best thing for this year is it's such a good quality, dry grain. It can store much easier."

In Brewster, New Vision Co-op has piled about 1.3 million bushels of corn on the ground so far this season -- that's about 300,000 bushels more than they stored outside last year, according to manager Kevin Hietbrink.

He attributes a bumper crop hauled in by area farmers, along with slow train movement, for the corn piled outside of the Brewster facility.

"We haven't had trains for about two months, it's been really slow," said Hietbrink. "Trains just ain't moving at harvest time."

Hietbrink said he expects their corn mountain will be removed via pay loaders and semi trucks by mid-January.

"We have semis that will haul it in and dump it as soon as we get a train," he added.

In the meantime, Hietbrink said New Vision, like several other area elevators, is requiring farmers sell a portion of their corn crop upon delivery.

Farmers hauling corn to the Brewster facility must sell 30 percent of their corn, with the remaining 70 percent going into open storage. When farmers sell their corn, it allows the elevator to ship it out, thus alleviating some of the storage issues.

"Farmers have been OK with (selling)," said Hietbrink, even though the corn price had fallen to $1.44 per bushel at his facility on Thursday. The price decline is a direct result of the larger-than-expected harvest throughout the Midwest.

"There are other elevators who are making them sell 50 percent, so they're OK with (30 percent)," he said.

Asking farmers to sell their grain at this time of the year, however, is cause for concern, according to University of Minnesota Extension Educator Gary Hachfield, of the Mankato Regional Center.

"The biggest disadvantage ... is the cash price for corn and soybeans is at its low at this time of the year," Hachfield said. "One positive point is that the LDP (Loan Deficiency Payment) is at a high at this time."

As a result, farmers can make up for the low crop prices by collecting money through USDA's Farm Service Agency.

Hachfield said farmers who pre-marketed or contracted their grain prior to harvest may weather today's corn price better than those who didn't pre-plan.

"Pre-marketing grain has historically been a good financial move for farmers," he said.

Hachfield cited the disruption of grain terminals in New Orleans, La., as part of the reason grain is stockpiling across Minnesota. Transportation, especially via train, hasn't been readily available.

"Historically, in this part of the state, we are at a huge disadvantage because of the large amount of rail that has disappeared over the years," he said. "There is so much grain, and we can only haul so much over the road. If we can't get rail transportation, that creates a real bind."

While building more grain bins is always an option for farmers, Hachfield said it is an expensive choice.

"Just putting up bins for the sake of storing grain has not been an economically viable choice for farmers," he said. "Storing grain, historically, has not been a real good alternative."

Though elevators all across Minnesota may have storage issues this time of year, there are a couple of factors working in farmers' favor -- the region's livestock feedlots and ethanol plants.

"The ethanol plans are a huge blessing ... but it's not enough to take off (the excess grain) that we see right now," Hachfield said.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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