Farmers packing grain into bins on farms

Farm Forum

Mother Nature has been helping out in the fields lately, helping farmers dry corn before it is harvested. With low prices for the commodity, every penny saved helps cover expenses. As farmers wrap up soybean harvest and move into cornfields, elevators are seeing corn brought in at a steady pace.

“We’ve been hearing that harvest is going well for producers as well as elevators,” Tom Bright of Wheat Growers said. “Bean harvest was frenetic, but now we’re seeing a solid, steady run for corn. Weather isn’t pushing the guys and they can work through corn harvest at a good, solid pace.”

The price for corn is not where farmers would like to see it. They are making every move they can to avoid expenses, including waiting for the corn to dry down in fields before they head out to combine, Bright said.

“They’ll fill the home bins first,” Bright said. “We’re looking at a strong push (to the elevators) at the end of harvest when the bins are full at home.”

Yields have been excellent, with this week’s state average estimated at 151 bushels per acre.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it’s even higher,” Bright said. ”Some are over that, some are under but most are pretty happy with the yield.”

Early planning helped get Wheat Growers ready for this season. Grain was moved out to make room for harvest. Last year at this time, Bright said the ability to move grain on rails fell apart. By and large, he said that the company is seeing a good solid delivery of BNSF trains to move what is needed. Transit times have improved easily by 2, 3 or even 4 days. That’s really helped out, especially in moving the beans out to make room for the corn.

Storage for grain in piles on a solid base is being utilized across the system as a way to increase dumping speed for customers, Bright said. Not all locations are full but this provides some flexibility. The company may bag some corn, but continued steady delivery of rail cars will limit that.

Jam-packed on the farms

“We’re running as hard as we can so we don’t get buried,” Craig Haugaard of North Central Farmer’s Elevator said. “The crop has dried down nicely which is great for the producers. Their on-farm storage is going to be jam-packed.”

North Central is seeing an average of 14.93 percent moisture in corn. It’s drying a lot faster than anyone thought it would. Temperatures in the 80s and strong winds pulled moisture from the drying cobs during the month of October, which worked to benefit producers.

Some of the farmers do have on-farm drying capacity, but most are being patient, trying to wait for it to dry down in the field. Drying it at the elevator to 15 percent costs 5 cents a percentage point.

Soybean harvest was huge in the North Central trade area. Haugaard said the company has been extremely happy with BNSF in moving beans on the railroad to markets. A lot of grain remains on farms throughout the state with really good yields for corn and beans.

Basis continues to be in a state of flux, and Haugaard said he’s not sure what direction it will go. It’s a struggle with freight costs still extremely high. If a lot of grain is kept away from the market, a huge change in futures or basis will be needed to bring that back out of storage.

Basis can get better down the road, but Bright said farmers are tight-fisted with their grain. They have lofty goals for the price they want and the wherewithal to wait it out. Barring a strong futures move or a major international issue to drive those futures prices up, Bright doesn’t see that prices will rise a lot.

Last year, 176 million bushels of soybeans were produced, and 809 million bushels of corn were harvested in South Dakota.

Shuttle turn times improve

In a podcast this last week, John Miller, vice-president for BNSF, said the railroad’s shuttle turns are 2.1 trips per month overall and 2.0 trips per month to the Pacific Northwest markets. He said they are committed to providing critical service through the period of harvest.

“The challenge is effectively making routing decisions and coordinating these sets through the company’s capital maintenance program, resulting in increased turns per month,” Miller said in the podcast.

Velocity numbers are improving and becoming more consistent. He said the daily number of trains delivered to the Pacific Northwest was at an all time high last week.

Miller noted that winter preparation is well underway, with plans in place for predicted and emergency weather conditions.

“We’re doing everything possible to learn from the lessons we experienced last year,” Miller said.