Prevailing against the weather: A conversation with the president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 28, 2013 - 8:03 PM

Minnesota’s corn farmers have had a fairly good corn crop, despite the late arrival of spring planting season.

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Minnesota corn farmers will have a hard time figuring out the future of prices in the next year, which could make a difficult occupation that much harder.

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Minnesota corn farmers like Ryan Buck managed to have a decent 2013 despite a lot of challenges from Mother Nature.

But another variable farmers can’t control — prices — has been trickier, swooning from $7 to $8 per bushel in drought-stained 2012 to the current $4.25 on the heels of this year’s bumper U.S. crop. Price forecasts for 2014 are all over the map.

Corn is Minnesota’s largest crop, and the state is the nation’s fourth-largest grower of the golden grain. Buck is president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, a yearlong post held by a farmer.

The 31-year-old farms 1,200 acres in Goodhue County near Red Wing, raising corn and soybeans.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will release full-year harvest tallies next month, but data in November showed that Minnesota’s corn farmers expected to come in with production and yields a bit below last year’s marks.

Still, that’s not bad considering that in early May — when farmers would normally have at least a third of their corn crop planted — virtually no corn was in the ground due to cold, wet weather. Buck had 16 inches of snow on his fields.

Q: How was the quality of this year’s corn crop, particularly given the late start?

A: The late planting had kind of a snowball effect, and conditions were never ideal. So for the growing season we had, the crop was pretty good. Part of it was luck, but it also has a lot to do with the technology of seed these days. The seed companies have bred hardiness and the ability to withstand more weather conditions into the seed.

Q: Corn prices have hit at least three-year lows recently — what sort of effect has that had?

A: Most farmers sell some grain forward in futures markets earlier in the crop year, and early this year, corn prices were higher than they are now. For 2013, I would think most farmers still did pretty well.

Q: I’ve seen forecasts calling for corn prices to do everything from rise to $5 per bushel to fall to $2.75. What do you think?

A: For the winter months, I think it will hold around where it is. Once we get into planting season, it will be a weather-driven market. If in June or July it looks like a bumper crop in the fields, we could see the price of corn drop into the $3 range.

Anything less than $3.50 to $4 a bushel will be below the cost of production, depending on the farmer. Every operation is different. I would hope we never get back to $2.50-per-bushel corn. But I think that every time you think you have the market figured out, it does something different.

Q: With lower grain prices and farm income, do you expect fewer purchases of tractors and other equipment in the off season?

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