The Crop Runneth Over in Wisconsin
Janesville Gazette (WI) -- October 22, 2010 -- Mountains of gold are piling up around south central Wisconsin.
In Evansville, 1.2 million bushels of corn pile high in the parking lot of the former Stoughton Trailers on the city's east side.
In Clinton, about 275,000 bushels of corn spread out on unused streets in the business park.
The perfect storm has brought high yields and prices for area farmers, which means not enough covered storage because the transportation systems in the Midwest can't move the grain fast enough.
"This harvest is one for the books, this is a historical harvest," said Doug Kloetting, grain merchandiser at The DeLong Company in Clinton. "We're all kind of pulling our hair out, so to speak, trying to keep up."
Freight is at a premium, he said.
"With so much volume coming at once into these elevators and into the lines, physically you can't do it," he said. "That's why it's piling up at these elevators because they just can't get it out the door fast enough."
Landmark Services Cooperative started making plans to lease parking lot space in August when the crop was looking phenomenal, said Heather Benson, marketing and public relations director. The pile will be there the shortest amount of time possible--Dec. 1 at the latest.
At the co-op's Cottage Grove facility, workers have put a couple hundred-thousand bushels of soybeans into bags.
The co-op's 13 million bushels of storage space throughout southern Wisconsin is full, partly because some of 2009's crop is still being sold, she said.
This isn't the first time DeLong has worked with the village of Clinton to store grain on unused streets, Kloetting said.
"There's a short period of time it will be there," he said.
Depending on the land, most farmers are seeing 30 to 50 more bushels of corn per acre than usual, and 10 to 15 more bushels on beans, he said.
"I think all of the yields we're seeing in south central Wisconsin are just out of this world," Benson said.
This year's harvest is way ahead of schedule, and the perfect weather has brought the crop in all at the same time.
Nationally, 68 percent of corn is harvested, compared to only 16 percent at this time last year, Kloetting said. Farmers are 83 percent complete with beans compared to 29 percent at this point last year.
And when grain prices inch up to $5 a bushel, "everybody wants to ship it at the same time because the price of corn is so high," said Ken Lucht, director of government affairs for Wisconsin & Southern Railroad.
The railroads are doing what they can to keep the grain moving, but one of the biggest challenges Wisconsin & Southern faces is the turnaround time on cars, Lucht said. If the grain is being sold out of state, it takes longer to get the cars back than if the crop is sold locally to ethanol plants, he said.
"We knew if price started bumping up and the producers moved what crop was in the elevator, along with trying to move the current year's crop, that it would tax the transportation infrastructure heavily," said Mark Davis, spokesman for Union Pacific railroad. "We're experiencing some delays across the network."
Corn Products in the Chicago area also is a popular destination for regional corn, Lucht said. But many times the ingredient maker can't accept large amounts of corn on a daily basis.
And there's only so many cars available, he said. The railroad leases its cars, which never stop, he said.
"It's simply not enough to handle this increase in demand," he said.
Wisconsin & Southern moves about 20 million bushles of grain out of Rock and Walworth counties annually. That accounts for one-third of all the grain the railroad projects to move this year