December 10, 2009


Storm seen halting harvest, causing corn losses in US Corn Belt


A nasty snowstorm moving across the north-central US Corn Belt could bring the curtain down on the harvest until next spring and cause some field losses, an Iowa agronomist said Wednesday (December 9).


The storm, which has dumped more than a foot of snow in Iowa and blanketed surrounding states, is being followed by winds of up to 50 miles per hour. With only 88% of the crop harvested as of Sunday, those bearing the worst of the storm likely will be unable to remove their remaining corn any time soon, said Roger Elmore, corn specialist with Iowa State University.


"I think some of these guys will be putting their combines away," he said.


For those who have been unable to harvest their corn, the storm poses multiple headaches, he said.


It keeps farmers out of the field in the near-term, and the heavy snow will likely cause some corn to lodge, or fall down. Harvesting corn that had lodged is slow, and some of the corn usually can't be recovered, he said.


If the snow doesn't knock it down, the wind might. Elmore noted that by December corn plants has just a "fragment" of their original strength, and added that the winds were blowing trees around as of Wednesday morning.


"Now imagine that corn stalk standing out there with about a half pound of weight three feet above the ground," he said.


It's possible but unlikely that farmers will be able to harvest their remaining corn before spring, he said, and as it sits in the field it will stay vulnerable to whatever other harsh weather winter brings, he said.


Elmore said a recent study is Wisconsin found that farmers forced to leave their corn in the field over the winter suffer on average anywhere from 20% to 37% field losses.


As of Sunday, Iowa had harvested 94% of its crop, but the % was lower in some areas, Elmore said. Other states hit hard by the storm are further behind. Wisconsin's crop was only 77% harvested, Minnesota's was 87% and Illinois' was 85%.


Chicago Board of Trade corn futures rose slightly Tuesday on the storm forecast, but they haven't extended their rally Wednesday. Any supply losses wouldn't be enough to change bearish trade sentiment, said John Kleist, broker/analyst with Allendale.


"The potential of limiting supply because of uncut corn has been more than offset by the fact that we have very weak demand," Kleist said. "And the fact is there's a ton of corn laying around. We don't need it."


He added that forecasts show the possibility of milder, dry weather later this month.


"I've got a couple producers telling me, 'If that happens, I can get the stuff out right before Christmas' " Kleist said.


For farmers who lose some corn, the headaches will continue into next growing season, Elmore said. Some of that corn could wind up sprouting as "volunteer" corn next year, even if the farmer has planted another crop, such as soy, in that spot.