Early start leads to near-perfect harvest

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WOOSTER, Ohio — A dry harvest season. High yields. Commodity prices rising.

Three things that sound good for corn and soybean growers in Ohio and Pennsylvania. After a wet harvest last fall that caused issues with mold and prevented farmers from entering the fields on time, this year’s harvest is turning out totally different.

“Mother Nature has cooperated and the price has cooperated. It’s almost like a perfect storm I guess for some of these guys,” said Zach Bolinger, who works in the grain merchandising department for Town and Country Co-op.

Full swing

He said farmers in Ohio are harvesting about as fast as they can, with most of the beans already off and corn well beyond halfway.

That appears to be the case, according to the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service, which released its latest crop report Oct. 25, showing 77 percent of Ohio’s corn and 89 percent of beans already are off. For corn, that’s 61 percent ahead of last year, and 20 percent for beans.

In Pa., the corn is 63 percent harvested, and beans are at 32 percent. Pa. corn is 32 percent ahead of last year and beans are 32 percent ahead of 2009.

“We hadn’t even started corn last year at this time,” said Roger Stitzlein, general manager of Loudonville Farmers Equity in Ashland County.

He estimated the mill’s customers are about 85 percent done with corn. This was the earliest harvest he’s seen, but for the most part, it’s been good all year.

“It’s been a perfect, spring summer and fall for these guys,” he said. “It couldn’t be any better.”

Jenifer Weaver, grain manager for Deerfield Farms, called it “an odd set of circumstances this fall,” compared to the near-opposite conditions last fall.

Deerfield has three locations in each state. Weaver said her Ohio customers are winding down with the bean harvest, and the Pa. customers more than half done.

Other benefits

The season is turning out well in another way, too. Drier grain means less mechanical drying, which means less energy use and expense to the farmer.

“The producer will have less costs, and the elevator will have less costs,” she said.

The mills surveyed said they were for the most part keeping up with the early volume of corn and beans. Extended harvest season hours and storage expansions are helping.

Cover crops

An early harvest has also given farmers a larger window to plant cover crops, including wheat and rye. Weaver said some of the first farmers to plant wheat already are seeing it emerge, in good condition.

Many agree a few rain showers could actually be a good thing, to help the cover crops get established.

Gary Besancon, agronomy manager for Town and Country, estimated more than 90 percent of his customers’ wheat is in the ground. He said farmers also have had a good chance to apply fertilizer and lime to fields — an important step to improving next year’s crops.

Wheat prices remain strong, coming off a year that saw a below-average wheat crop, due to the late harvest in 2009, and issues with head scab and vomitoxin the past summer.

Effect on livestock

While grain farmers have some reason to celebrate, it remains to be seen what the price impact will have on dairy and other livestock industries.

Stitzlein said in his own region, livestock numbers have decreased the past couple years, partly because of poor milk prices.

“Somebody’s going to have to buy this higher-priced stuff,” he said.

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