Cornucopia Of Rain Interferes With Fall Harvest

fromNET

Farmers are scrambling to finish the harvest before winter sets in. Rainy conditions have left crops in many parts of the country too wet to be harvested, and fields too soggy to handle heavy farm equipment. The longer plants sit out in the field, the greater the risk that farmers' profits will shrink because of crop damage.

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This is a frustrating time for corn farmers. They have a huge crop this fall and prices are strong - but cool, rainy weather has left much of that corn too wet to harvest, and many fields are too soggy to handle heavy farm equipment, which leaves farmers struggling. Sarah McCammon reports from NET Radio in Nebraska.

Unidentified Man: Five feet(ph), that's good.

SARAH MCCAMMON: Harvest is always a busy time of year at grain elevators like this one in Giltner, a town of about 400 in South-Central Nebraska. In a tiny office overlooking the railroad tracks, workers check corn for quality and operate a metal chute that fills train cars with mounds of bright yellow kernels. But this year, manager Kurt Watson says there's one extra step involved.

Mr. KURT WATSON (Grain Bin Manager): Everything coming in is pretty wet out of the field, so we're having to run everything through the dryer.

MCCAMMON: Watson says he's had workers at the facility 24 hours a day supervising these enormous grain dryers as they blow hot air through the damp kernels to dry them and prevent molding. But Watson says the machines can't keep up with all the farmers lining up to drop off their corn.

Mr. WATSON: A normal year takes us three to four weeks to get done with corn harvests, and this year it looks like it's going to take us two months. So it's taking twice as long.

MCCAMMON: Just down the road, Brandon Honeycut(ph) and his family grow close to 4,000 acres of corn, popcorn, and soybeans.

Mr. BRANDON HONEYCUT (Farmer): It's been wet all fall and it's been amazingly wet. Just the moistures are running higher than I'm used to - than a lot of guys around here have run in years.

MCCAMMON: Honeycut says he uses his own equipment to dry as much corn as he can at his storage facility on the farm. That's because it could cost him more than 40 cents a bushel in drying charges at the grain elevator. At that rate, Honeycut says he'd be paying out a quarter of a million dollars to dry his whole crop at the elevator. And he says getting the corn from point A to point B has been extra challenging this year.

Mr. HONEYCUT: It doesn't have to be very wet to have an issue with getting it semi-stuck(ph). We've already had one stuck this year and we'll probably have more stuck before the year's out.

MCCAMMON: Rick Tollman(ph) is with the National Corn Growers Association. He says Honeycut's experience is pretty common and calls this harvest the worst in memory. Tollman says it's especially frustrating for farmers who've grown one of the biggest crops in history and are seeing relatively strong prices in the markets.

Mr. RICK TOLLMAN (National Corn Growers Association): But most farmers don't have good corn or they can't get it out of the field. So they're seeing these really good prices, but they have nothing to sell. So it's an emotional and an economic stress factor.

MCCAMMON: Perched in the cab of his combine, Brandon Honeycut steers the machine through the field, mowing down a dozen rows at a time. In a state where football is almost as sacred as farming, Honeycut says most years growers lament with harvesting keeps them from watching the Nebraska Cornhuskers play.

Mr. HONEYCUT: It's usually not a good sign is when Nebraska's playing home football games well into late October, into November, and you're like, all right, I can't make the game this week because we're harvesting corn, but you're able to because the fields are too muddy or the corn is too wet. That's - I'd rather be skipping games right now than having the ability to go to them.

MCCAMMON: Regardless of what happens on the football field this season, Honeycut and others are just hoping for enough dry weather to finish husking their own corn.

For NPR News, I'm Sara McCammon.

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