Missouri's farmers may soon be up to their ears in corn

Sunday, August 15, 2010 | 5:46 p.m. CDT; updated 10:43 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 18, 2010

COLUMBIA — Missouri farmers may see a record corn harvest this year thanks to regular rains and warm, humid weather.

Favorable spring weather allowed farmers to plant about 60 percent of their corn fields 10 days earlier than usual, said Gene Danekas, director of the Missouri Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

It's a similar story nationwide: The National Agricultural Statistics Service released a forecast Aug. 12 predicting a record harvest for both corn and soy in the United States.

Flooding, hail storms and other disasters could still dampen the harvest, said Marc Tosiano, director of marketing and information services for the National Agricultural Statistics Service. But Missouri farmers interviewed for this story remained enthusiastic.

"I think we are going to have a super year," said one of the farmers, Fred Thonen of Thonen Farms in Frankenstein.

The weather has been warmer than last year's, but with only a few dry spells, Thonen said. Frequent rains meant they used their irrigation system only once this year, he said, which saves money.

His grandsons, Jared and Noah, have helped harvest most of their 3.5 acres of sweet corn. A profitable year will put them closer to their goal of being able to pay for college, Thonen said.

Large-scale farmers are optimistic about the forecasts as well.

John Clay, owner of Jamestown Agriservices in Jamestown and a corn and soybean farmer, said he has had some flood damage in the river bottoms, but he thinks it will be a good harvest.

A complex market determines what prices farmers will receive for their crops, Clay said.

Generally, when area farmers have large crops, local buyers like Cargill and ADM can pay lower prices than those established by the Chicago Board of Trade, which facilitates the international trade in corn, soy and many other commodities.

But the international market might work to Missouri's advantage this year. Fires in Russia and a drought in China have reduced the potential harvests in those country's breadbaskets, Clay said.

That means the international grain supply might be lower than usual, and Missouri farmers might find themselves with a large crop they can sell at an attractive price, Clay said.

Melvin Brees of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at MU sounded a note of skepticism: Corn and soy futures prices have been fluctuating for a while, and they will probably continue to do so.

"Prices have been volatile for some time, and with considerable uncertainty from several factors this situation is likely to continue," Brees said. "This makes forecasting prices difficult and the impacts hard to anticipate."

Missourian reporter Tim Wall contributed to this article.

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