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Snow Soaks Nebraska Corn Harvest

October 28, 1997

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Just when Nebraska farmers thought things were going great, Mother Nature intervened.

Farmers were harvesting a near-perfect corn crop in large volumes last week as cool, dry weather graced the state.

That abruptly ended over the weekend as a snowstorm roared through Nebraska. Heavy snow smothered unharvested fields, broke off corn stalks, soaked grain piled outside overloaded elevators and caused cattle to wander aimlessly while temporarily foraging in emptied fields.

The storm also delivered another blow to apple orchards in the Nebraska City area that had been buffeted by high winds during apple-picking season.

Ron Ochsner of Saronville, president of the Nebraska Corn Growers, said the heavy snow was sure to break off more corn the longer it sat on plants. Cobs on the ground are out of the reach of harvesting equipment. Farmers will have to go much more slowly than normal to get other cobs off leaning stalks.

``I’m sure there will be some more loss,″ Ochsner said. ``A lot will depend on how fast it melts.″

Jerry Gangwish of the Sutton Cooperative Elevator said some farmers in his area still have several hundred acres of corn to harvest. ``That’s where the problem is going to be,″ he said. ``It’s not a lot, but quite a few people have got some out there.″

The Sutton elevator is among many in southeast Nebraska that had grain piles exposed to the weather because of the bumper size of the crop and a shortage of rail transportation to open up indoor storage space.

In the most serious situations, moisture will cause corn to turn moldy and spoil. In less serious situations, extra drying time and costs will result from the early snowstorm.

Dave Bruntz of Friend, owner of a cow-calf herd and president of the Nebraska Cattlemen, said snow and wind mean problems even when temperatures do not fall to life-threatening lows.

Many farmers who combine cattle and grain operations move the cattle into cornfields as soon as the fields are harvested as part of their fall forage routine.

``Some of them probably drifted with the storm, for one thing, and it covered up a tremendous amount of feed,″ Bruntz said.

Now cattle producers will have to haul some sort of supplemental feed to their herds and wait for the snow to melt. ``That’s a good part of their winter feed. They hope to graze the stocks until the first of the year,″ Bruntz said.

Feedlots will also be affected by weather at a time when cool, relatively dry weather ordinarily gives cattle their best rates of weight gain, he said. ``I’m sure it’s going to make a muddy mess,″ he said.

Joy Morton Porter, manager of the Arbor Day Farm Apple Orchard at Nebraska City, said both fruit and shade trees were vulnerable to heavy snow because unusually warm temperatures through much of October slowed leaf drop. That means more snow will be sticking in branches and overloading them.

Ochsner said fields should have time to dry out enough for farmers to finish with harvest before winter really sets in. Weather forecasters said most of the weekend’s snow should be gone by the end of this week with warmer temperatures expected.

``I’ve never seen this heavy a storm this early, so it’s a whole new experience,″ Ochsner said.

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