Higher Harvest Grain Prices Cushion Drought Loss For Ohio Farmers

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Madison County corn field is harvested near West Jefferson, Ohio. Corn yields are lower this year because of drought damage.(Photo: Tom Borgerding/WOSU)
Madison County corn field is harvested near West Jefferson, Ohio. Corn yields are lower this year because of drought damage.(Photo: Tom Borgerding/WOSU)

Ohio’s farmers are finishing corn and soybean harvests early this fall. After months of dire predictions, it appears Central Ohio was spared the most severe damage from summer drought and heat. Crop yields are down, but higher prices are cushioning farmers’ balance sheets.

By mid-morning, after the dew has begun burning off, Madison County farmer Dale Siebold climbs into his eight row combine Today, he’s harvesting a 130 acre corn field just south of West Jefferson. He likes what he does.

“Yep, done it my whole life, grew up farming’” Says Diebold.

Siebold keeps close watch as ripe cornstalks feed into the huge machine. It leaves stubble in the field and collects tons of valuable corn in the bin behind the cab. Siebold says this field fared better than most during the past hot, dry summer. He thanks a single, timely thunderstorm in early August that came at the critical pollination point for his corn

“Right here is this field, they had some rain. Yields are averaging 165 to 170 here. Closer, on the other side of West Jeff where I live, yields were closer to 90 to 100 bushels.”

Siebold says the worst corn yield he has seen this fall is 80 bushels per acre – half his normal take in a non-drought year.

Seibold trucks his corn harvest to the Gavillon Grain elevator about five miles away. Manager Micah Mork says while average corn yields in the county are down by more than a third, prices for corn are at or near record highs.

Mork says he’s been paying farmers about $7.50 a bushel , compared to nearly $6 last harvest season and as low as $3 just three years ago.

Mork says the higher price has prompted more farmers to sell during harvest rather than store their grain until winter or early spring.

“Lot of guys have been looking at that price. Its hard to stare $7.50 down and not deliver on it…there’s been plenty of guys that have gone to bins…for some of them that’s just their marketing plan. They put it in the bin, they hold it for awhile, then they sell it when they need the money, January through September.” Says Micah Mork.

While the higher prices this fall help make up for lower yields, Ohio State University agricultural economist, Matt Roberts says in some areas further west, the drought damage is extreme and corn yields are as low as 30 bushels per acre.

“In Ohio, especially those ones in northwest Ohio that maybe are seeing 30 percent, 35 percent of their expected yield, they’re not getting prices three times higher. So, clearly their sales are coming in well, well, short of what they expected this year.” Says Roberts.

But, Roberts expects few farmer bankruptcies this fall. He says farmers entered 2012 with strong balance sheets….and

“Because farmers now are taking crop insurance. We’re not going to have the widespread losses we’ve had in previous droughts.”

Roberts says federally-subsidized crop insurance has grown especially popular among corn and soybean farmers as a way to manage risks like floods, hail storms, and drought.

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