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1998 Harvest Worries Neb. Farmers

September 11, 1998

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ A few bushels of soybeans in one Nebraska town, a few bushels of corn in another.

Just like that, the 1998 harvest has begun. But there is no joy in middle America.

Farmers fear the unfolding harvest will bump into record low prices, leaving them stranded with more than they can get rid of or get anyone to store.

``There will be no return on investment this year whatsoever,″ said Valparaiso area farmer Dave Benes. ``But it’s a lot better than our poor neighbors to the south in Texas, where they’ve had neither crop nor price.″

Nebraska fields with record potential have ripened rapidly in a period of rainless 90-degree days. Farmers are harvesting at least 10 days ahead of normal in the state’s southeast corner.

The start of harvest means time almost has run out for grain elevators that have been struggling _ often in vain _ to make room for mountains of grain. It means farmers must decide how much they can store and how much they must sell at prices far below their cost of production.

It means railroads that had huge difficulties staying ahead of the harvest last year are about to find out how this year’s harvest will go in the midst of dismal export demand for crops.

``It’s going to be a big harvest,″ said Ed Trandahl of Union Pacific Railroad. ``It could be a record harvest. And there’s going to be some pressure on us, no question about it.″

Andy Kuhn of Farmland’s grain division in Lincoln knows that poor prices are going to add to the strain of long working hours for people buying and selling grain.

``We’re going to have customers mad. We have the cheapest prices we’ve had in years. It’s just ugly,″ he said. ``I’ve started smoking again.″

One source of tension is how much grain, if any, elevators will store for farmers. It is a longstanding tradition to give farmers storage space, for a few pennies per bushel, while they wait for a post-harvest rebound in prices.

But Pat Ptacek of the Nebraska Grain and Feed Association said grain elevator members are having to deal with 1998 corn, 1997 corn that farmers have not sold in the absence of attractive prices, and limited enthusiasm among corn processors.

``And let’s face it,″ Ptacek said. ``There’s not very much of that stuff moving right now.″

Under those circumstances, management at the Dorchester Farmers Co-op are deciding what their grain receipt policy will be. The Farmers Co-op Co. of Waverly will have some storage space available for what Manager Harold Hummel described as ``regular members.″

Farmland in Lincoln will be among a potentially large number of elevators not offering any so-called ``open storage″ to farmers.

``We can’t afford to,″ Kuhn said, ``because, basically, if we accept open storage, we won’t buy any bushels. And then we’ll fill up in 16 days.″

A Norfolk agriculture specialist reported on the condition of crops coming up for harvest early.

``So far, so good,″ is Keith Jarvi’s general assessment of northeast Nebraska crop conditions. Jarvi is a pest management specialist with the University of Nebraska Northeast Research and Extension Center.

Jarvi said mid-group soybeans are already mature and corn is within a few days of maturity.

He said 1998 has seen little insect damage, but he has heard reports of gray leaf spot and stalk rot in some corn fields.

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