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Low yields and early corn harvest result of 2012 drought

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In year of record high temperatures and record low rainfall, Saline County's corn harvest may break another record for the earliest start.

Some area farmers started shelling corn the first week of August, at least three weeks earlier than normal.

"We've been getting some in. There are three or four people picking and hauling to town," said John Fletcher, general manager of Central Missouri Agri-Service of Marshall. "It's certainly not a feverish pitch yet, but there is some stuff going on."

New crop corn is also trickling into Farmer's Grain Terminal of Slater.

"We've seen some of that earlier planted corn and some that had died or was going down," said Willa Wiese, FGT grain accountant.

Fletcher, who has worked at the elevator since 1975, said this is earlier than any other harvest he can remember. A warm spring, early planting dates and insufficient rainfall have combined to damage and prematurely dry down this year's crop. The United States Department of Agriculture has declared the drought, which has affected approximately 70 percent of the nation, as the worst in 56 years.

Even farmers who haven't started picking corn are preparing for harvest and running moisture tests.

"We've seen an awful lot of samples," Fletcher said. "People wanting to check it out and see what it's doing."

Wiese said they were also taking in samples, many of which are still testing high in moisture. She said the difference depends on several factors, including planting dates, varied rainfall amounts, and farm locations.

Farmers are also sampling for aflatoxin, a toxic mold often found in stressed and drought-damaged corn.

Both CMAS and FGT have found the toxin, which is hazardous to humans and animals in varying amounts.

"We've had a lot of samples taken and have only come up with two samples so far that have had aflatoxin," Fletcher said.

One sample west of Marshall was very high, while another found south of town contained lower amounts.

"We're probably going to take corn if its under 100 parts per billion (ppb) and do our best to keep it separated," Fletcher said, adding the farmers could be docked on the grain prices.

Wiese said they would also be keeping the affected corn separated.

Aflatoxin can be toxic to humans at over 20 ppb, but can be fed to some livestock up to 300 ppb.

Both elevators have purchased the equipment to test for the toxin this year. It takes about 10-minutes to get the results, Fletcher said.

Area farmers can also take samples to the USDA Grain Inspection Service located in Marshall at 615 Cherokee Dr., suite #4B.

There has also been concern that the toxin can spread if put into grain bins. Crop insurance agents have warned at several recent meetings that if aflatoxin is found after insurance claims are finished, the loss of income will not be covered. They have urged farmers to contact their agent if aflatoxin is suspected or found in any of their corn fields.

Last week, the USDA dropped the 2012 average corn yield estimated down to 123.4 bushels per acre, down 23.8 bushels from 2011. If realized, this will be the nation's lowest average yield since 1995.

Early yields from Saline County farmers have been much lower than that.

"One field was 50 (bushels per acre) and another was 70," Wiese said. "It doesn't look good."

Because of the expected low corn yields and short crop, area elevators are also offering free storage with deferred pricing to customers. Storage normally costs four cents a month per bushel at CMAS, which has elevators in Marshall, Malta Bend, Miami, Blackburn, Slater and Waverly.

"We are going to have plenty of space this fall," said Fletcher. "I'd rather handle it at no storage and get a handling margin on it as to not handle it."

FGT will also offer free storage and deferred pricing for 2012 crops.

"You're basically selling it to us as you deliver, but you haven't established a price yet," Fletcher explained. "Some people call it 'price later'."

Customers will have to sign a contract in order to receive free storage, Fletcher said. They will have a year to select a price, he added.

"You sold me the corn, you sold me the soybeans, but you just haven't established a price yet," Fletcher said.

The elevator has sent letters and contracts to any customer from the past three years, Fletcher said.

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