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Sunday, September 30, 2018 1:00 am

Grain storage space feeling the squeeze

High yields, tariffs mean little place to put it

RON SHAWGO | The Journal Gazette

Crop yields

In Indiana for corn and soybeans (bushels per acre)

Year Corn Soybeans
1995 113 39.5
1996 123 38
1997 122 43.5
1998 137 42
1999 132 39
2000 146 46
2001 156 49
2002 121 41.5
2003 146 38
2004 168 51.5
2005 154 49
2006 157 50
2007 154 46
2008 160 45
2009 171 49
2010 157 48.5
2011 146 45.5
2012 99 44
2013 177 51.5
2014 188 55.5
2015 150 50
2016 173 57.5
2017 180 54
2018* 192 60


Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service

Anticipating higher-than-average grain yields this fall, state officials are predicting storage problems partly due to international tariffs.

Because of low prices and the Trump administration's trade war with China and other countries, some grain from last year remains unsold and is taking up storage space, said Jordan Seger, Indiana State Department of Agriculture deputy director.

“Some of the discussion has been, one of the reasons for those low prices right now is just some of the trade and tariff discussions that are going on at a national and international level,” he said. “And obviously low prices affect when a farmer wants to sell his or her grain. So, it's all kind of interrelated.”

Because of the possible storage crunch as the fall crop is harvested, the state announced last week that licensed facilities – farmers, grain elevators and others – can apply to store grain outside on asphalt or concrete slabs in covered piles if grain bins fill up.

While the state expects highewr-than-normal yields, local officials say it's too early in the harvest to say how northeast Indiana farmers will fare.

The Trump administration announced in July that it would provide $12 billion in emergency relief to farmers affected by the trade disputes.

Those payments have started, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. Citing U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, the newspaper said the department so far has paid $35 million to farmers in Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

James Wolff, agriculture and natural resources educator with Purdue's Allen County Extension office, said he did not know who locally had applied for or received payments through the program.

Some grain elevators didn't get rid of grain last year because they didn't have markets or had no way to move it in July or August because of the tariffs, said Roger Hadley, Allen County president of the Indiana Farm Bureau. Hadley said he's heard some elevators have 20 percent to 25 percent of their capacity in leftover grain.

“Long story short, we did not move nearly as much through the system, so there is more, I guess you might call it, in the pipeline or sitting in elevators,” he said.

Wolff said he has heard some places are not accepting grain yet this season.

“And that kind of makes me believe that they probably still got grain,” he said. “They're probably still a little bit full, and they're trying to figure out how to get rid of this grain at a price that's going to be good for them and still be able to make it to where we're actually in full harvest.”

A September report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service forecasts record yields for corn and soybeans, said Greg Matli, a statistician with the service.

Corn yield is expected to reach 192 bushels per acre, up from a record 188 bushels set in 2014, Matli said. Farmers are expected to bring in 60 bushels of soybeans an acre, up slightly from the record 57.5 an acre set in 2016, he said.

Hadley and Wolff say they expect at least normal if not above normal yields this season.

Hadley said he hasn't done much harvesting because of rain. For soybeans, 70 bushels an acre is normal, and Hadley said he is hoping for yields in the upper 60s or upper 70s.

“At this stage the optimism looks pretty good on the bean yield,” he said. “The weather was right at the right time.” Corn also looks good, but height has been inconsistent, which usually leads to inconsistent yields, he added.

While the state is projecting some higher-than-average yields, Wolff said he doesn't know if that will happen in northeast Indiana because of weather issues.

“But so far crops do look to be pretty decent,” he said.

“And I think we'll still get some average yields.”