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Corn harvest behind schedule this year

Corn is ready to be pumped from trailers into a storage elevator at the Jorstad family farm Tuesday. The Jorstads began harvesting their 3,500-acre farm last month.
Corn is ready to be pumped from trailers into a storage elevator at the Jorstad family farm Tuesday. The Jorstads began harvesting their 3,500-acre farm last month.

The corn is brown, the beans are yellow and the combines are out – sure signs that harvest season is in full swing for 450 farms in Grundy County.

Mark and Keith Jorstad, fifth-generation farmers from Morris, began harvesting their 3,500 acre farm in early September.

“We have about two weeks to go,” said Jorstad, whose farm is two-thirds corn, the most farmed crop in Grundy County. Of the 215,474 acres of farmland in Grundy, approximately 112,000 acres are corn, according to the most recent agriculture census.

While the Jorstads are finishing up their harvest, Illinois farmers are seeing a very late corn harvest thanks in part to the government shutdown and above-average yields.

A recently released USDA document stated the Illinois corn harvest was only 51 percent complete as of Monday – significantly behind last year’s harvest, which was 91 percent complete by this time, and 10 percent below Illinois’ five-year average.

Jeff Neisler, terminal manager at Elburn Grain Coop in Morris, said he thinks depressed prices are to blame.

Last year’s record drought pushed corn prices up to $7.25 per bushel, according to a USDA survey. Neisler said corn is approaching $4.15 to $4.20 per bushel this marketing season. 

“With the low prices, I don’t think the farmers are as excited about harvesting their crop so their trying to get more natural drying in the field,” Neisler said. 

Prices may be depressed, but yields are abundant.

This year’s official production numbers from the USDA are unavailable because of the 16-day government shutdown. However, Neisler and Jorstad said they communicated with gulf traders and other merchandisers to get a good sense of this year’s production numbers.

Neisler said corn production is about 180 to 200 bushels per acre. This is significantly higher than last year, when the 2012 drought drove production down to 75 to 100 bushels per acre, according to a USDA report.

“This year has been extremely good,” Jorstad said. “We are seeing above-average yields on a lot of farms.”

But not all Illinois farmers are as lucky. While much of Grundy County saw the right amount of rain at the right times, farmers to the south and east did not. As a result, those farms are experiencing below average production.

“Bloomington and Champaign went from July 1 to Aug. 15 with essentially no rain,” Neisler said.

This month’s official supply and demand report from the USDA, as well as the agency’s weekly crop-progress reports, were canceled for the duration of the government shutdown. This is the first time since 1816 that the USDA has failed to deliver a supply and demand report. The next report is scheduled for Nov. 8.

Merchandisers heavily depend on these reports when determining commodity prices. 

Jorstad said measuring supply went smoothly thanks to local grain elevators providing data. However, measuring demand, especially internationally, was almost impossible without the USDA reports. 

When 100,000 or more tons of a commodity is sold to any given country, the USDA is required by law to make an announcement. But, with the shutdown halting USDA operations for the last month, foreign buyers were able to make large purchases in private. 

“China can be very elusive. They tend to sneak around and buy when nobody’s looking,” Neisler said. 

The Elburn Coop does a lot of business with Southeast Asia and China so “we were left in the dark,” Neisler said. Elburn, like many merchandisers, had to rely on contacting traders directly to stay updated on market trends.

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