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Too much of a good thing
Large harvests, hauling delays causing grain storage woes
new deh fall harvest woes pic 2 web
Area grain elevators are resorting to piling crops on the ground and using open-air bunks like this one operated by Great Bend Coop at Ransom because space is tight elsewhere. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

 For area farmers and grain handlers, fall 2016 is amounting to a perfect storm.

First, the Golden Belt saw a record wheat harvest. On the heels of this, the region could experience an average or above corn crop and potentially bumper milo crop, crops that are coming in sooner than normal due to the ideal weather conditions.

Now there are storage nightmares for grain elevator operators, said Great Bend Cooperative General Manager Frank Riedl. It boils down to a transportation issue to get the wheat out and glut at the end of the line.

“There’s not a lot of places to go with it,” Riedl said. “The pipeline is full.”

The railroads can’t keep up with the demand to move the grain. And, with the fall harvest in full swing, truckers can make more money hauling corn and milo to elevators than they can taking wheat to grain terminals. 

This has lead to Great Bend Coop and other cooperatives dumping grain on the ground. It also sparked an urgent request from GBC to build a new temporary storage bunks at Pawnee Rock.

“Those two things are coming together as part of the picture,” said Scott Keller, a statistician at the National Ag Statistics Service regional office in Lincoln, Neb. The office serves Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The forecast 

Kansas’s 2016 corn production is forecast at a record high 687 million bushels, 18 percent above last year, according to the latest USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service data released Oct. 2. Area to be harvested for grain, at 4.55 million acres, is up 16 percent from a year ago. Yield is forecast at 151 bushels per acre, up three bushels from last year. 

Corn condition rated 2 percent very poor, 7 poor, 26 fair, 54 good, and 11 excellent. Mature corn was at 91 percent, near the 92 last year and the 89 average. Of that, 47 percent was harvest, behind 56 last year and the 52 average. 

In the same report, the NASS noted sorghum for grain production in Kansas is forecast at 255 million bushels, down 9 percent from last year. Area for harvest, at 2.90 million acres, is down 9 percent from 2015. But, a record yield is forecast at 88 bushels per acre, unchanged from last year. This would tie the record yield from 2009 and 2015. 

Sorghum condition rated 1 percent very poor, 3 poor, 21 fair, 59 good, and 16 excellent. Mature sorghum was at 63 percent, behind 69 last year, but ahead of the 46 average. Harvested was 18 percent completed, near the 22 from last year, but ahead of the 11 average.

The next monthly NASS corn and sorghum forecast will be released Wednesday. The final report will be released Jan. 12, 2017.

However, “this is only part of the whole storage issue,” Keller said. “We had the largest winter wheat production.”

In the NASS wrap-up report on small grains, winter wheat production is estimated at 467 million bushels, up 45 percent from last year and largest in 13 years. The area harvested for grain totaled 8.2 million acres, down 8 percent from 2015. 

Planted acreage totaled 8.5 million, down 8 percent from a year earlier. The yield is a record high 57.0 bushels per acre, up 20.0 bushels from last year and eight bushels above the previous high set in 1998. 


The national view

Nationally, corn production is forecast at 15.1 billion bushels, up 11 percent from last year but down less than one percent from the August forecast. Based on conditions as of Sept. 1, yields are expected to average 174.4 bushels per acre, down 0.7 bushel from the August forecast but up six bushels from 2015. 

If realized, this will be the highest yield and production on record for the United States, the NASS notes. Area harvested for grain is forecast at 86.6 million acres, unchanged from the August forecast, but up 7 percent from 2015.  

All wheat production totaled 2.31 billion bushels in 2016, up 12 percent from the revised 2015 total of 2.06 billion bushels. Area harvested for grain totaled 43.9 million acres, down 7 percent from the previous year.

The United States yield is estimated at 52.6 bushels per acre, up nine bushels from the previous year and represents a new record high.  

Future problems

Storing grain on the ground is becoming a more common practice.


“We need a storage upgrade to keep up with modern-day farming,” Riedl said. He was referring to the grain industry as a whole.

Larger combines cut crops faster, larger trucks haul to elevators faster, crops are larger and farming practices are better. This all hits a storage infrastructure that can’t keep up with the demand.

“All the elevators are trying to build storage,” Riedl said. But, contractors are swamped so the waiting list for new facilities is long with projected completions a year out or more.

Now, farmers are getting ready for next year.

In Kansas, winter wheat for 2017 is faring well so far despite the recent cold temperatures, the NASS reported. The agency rated the state’s wheat condition as 6 percent excellent, 55 percent good, 35 percent fair and 4 percent poor. About 95 percent of the winter wheat has emerged.