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Published December 14, 2009, 06:44 PM

Same ol’ story: Corn harvest lags

Hundreds of thousands of acres of corn remained unharvested in snowy, frigid fields Monday across the Red River Valley during this historically late season.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

By Stephen J. Lee

Herald Staff Writer

Hundreds of thousands of acres of corn remained unharvested in snowy, frigid fields Monday across the Red River Valley during this historically late season.

A few hardy farmers were combining Monday as wind chills dropped to 20 below or lower. But not many turned a wheel as air temperatures that barely cracked zero made it too difficult.

David Fiebiger, manager of the Finley (N.D.) Farmers Grain and Elevator Co., said maybe two-thirds of the corn in his area has been combined.

“It’s a good question,” he said Monday. “Some producers have 70 percent of their corn still out there, some are done.”

Only a couple of farmers were combining and hauling corn Monday, he said.

“It’s the cold causing the problems,” Fiebiger said. “When it gets to zero or below, equipment just doesn’t work.”

The moisture levels are remaining high, from 21 percent to 27 percent, he said, which continues to make drying an expensive and problematic process, one that easily can damage the kernels of corn because of the heat.

But the long, drawn-out harvest season keeps chugging along, slow but steady, meaning long hours for everyone involved, as the few inches of snow haven’t stopped it yet.

Bobby Jorgensen arrived Monday to work the second shift at MayPort Farmers Co-op in Mayville, N.D.

“I’ll be working ‘till at least 8 o’clock,” he said, dumping trucks and monitoring the dryer.

By Sunday, 60 percent of North Dakota’s corn crop was harvested, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new report of this historically lagging season.

It means in the past week, the state’s farmers took off 7 percent of the corn crop. Normally, the entire crop would have been harvested weeks ago.

It also means that about 700,000 acres of corn remain standing, equal to the entire state’s corn crop any year before 1998.

At the USDA’s projected yield of 117 bushels an acre and the average price at grain elevators in the Valley of $3.15 a bushel, that means $258 million worth of corn standing at risk in North Dakota fields.

Across the Red River, Minnesota farmers had harvested 91 percent of their corn by Sunday, a 4 percent increase over the past week and well behind normal, which is the crop harvested by December.

The moisture level in the corn remains at an average of 21 percent, where it’s been for two weeks.

In fact, the last time that less than 95 percent of Minnesota’s corn crop was harvested by mid-December was 1985, when only 87 percent was combined by Dec. 15, USDA reported Monday. It’s the northwestern part of Minnesota that still has the most corn remaining in the field.

It all means that there’s little doubt hundreds of thousands of acres of corn will remain all winter, not harvested until after the spring thaw next year.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com.

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