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Weather, storage, tariffs lead to late corn harvest

November 18, 2018

Several times since Traci Bultemeir became Pioneer’s northeast Indiana territory manager, farmers have had a late corn harvest.

This is one of those years.

Wet weather delayed spring planting and by the time corn was mature enough to harvest, significant fall rains drenched area fields, Bultemeir said. When massive farm equipment drives over wet soil, the dirt compacts and becomes dense, creating long-term problems in the fields. 

When the weather is especially wet, farmers sometimes leave corn in fields until December, when they can harvest at night, running their heavy machinery over frozen ground.

“I can remember harvesting on Thanksgiving when it was snowing,” she said.

Bultemeir, who owns Wayne Trace Farms with her husband, Jamie Bultemeir, said their crop is already in this year. They have about 200 acres, divided among corn, soybeans, hay and pasture land. They also raise 30 sheep and 1,500 to 2,000 laying chickens.

As of Nov. 4, just over three-fourths of the U.S. corn crop had been harvested, according to Indiana Prairie Farmer, a specialty publication based in Franklin.

James Wolff, agriculture and natural resources educator for Allen County Purdue Extension, said farmers try to get corn in by Thanksgiving. It doesn’t help, he said, that the holiday falls early this year.

Bob Nielsen, a Purdue University agronomy professor, said this year’s corn harvest is ahead of the 10-year statewide average. Data showed just 12 percent still in the fields as of Monday.

“It only feels like it’s a late harvest,” he said. “A couple of weeks of rainy weather really put the brakes on what had been rapid progress” earlier in the fall.

Nielsen noted that he tracks statewide data, which might not reflect spring rains in this region, rains that led to later-than-usual planting and harvesting.

Last week’s ice and snow could cause the last 12 percent to linger in the fields awhile longer, he added.

Wolff agreed.

“Snow doesn’t help, and ice doesn’t help getting crops out of the field,” he said.

International politics might also be playing a role in the local harvest this year.

Bultemeir said she can’t rule out the possibility that scarce storage played some role in the late corn harvest. Grain storage operations have filled up with soybeans as growers wait out Chinese tariffs in hopes of fetching a high price at market.

In the past eight months, soybean prices have fallen by 9.

In September, state officials announced that licensed facilities : farmers, grain elevators and others : can apply to store grain outside on asphalt or concrete slabs in covered piles if there’s no room in the bin.

Nielsen shared Bultemeir’s reluctance to dismiss the tariffs and storage shortages as playing a role.

“I wouldn’t say it’s not a factor,” he said, adding that it could be for some farmers and at some grain elevators. 

Wolff said lack of storage can impact harvest schedules.

“You can’t pull stuff out of the field,” he said, “if there’s nowhere to put it.” 

sslater@jg.net

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