The ripening corn and soybean fields stretch for miles in every direction from Dennis Wentworth’s farm in Downs, Ill.
As he marveled at what could be his best crops ever, he wondered aloud where the heck he’ll put it all.
“Logistics are going to be a huge problem for everyone,” the 62-year-old grower said, adding that he has invested in boosting output rather than grain bins. When harvesting starts in a few weeks, Wentworth expects his 150-year-old family farm to produce 10 percent more than last year’s record. “There are going to be some big piles of grain on the ground this fall.”
From Ohio to Nebraska, thousands of field inspections this week during the Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour show production of corn could be 1 percent more than the government’s estimate and soybeans 1.2 percent higher, according to a Bloomberg survey of crop scouts. Months of timely rains and mild weather created ideal growing conditions.
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Prospects of bumper harvests sent Chicago futures tumbling last month, two years after a drought eroded output and sparked the highest prices ever. Cheaper grain is bolstering profit for buyers including Tyson Foods Inc. and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., encouraging some cattle producers in the Great Plains to expand herds, and eroding income for farmers who say increased output will make up for some of the slump.
Samples in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Iowa – representing 45 percent of forecast U.S. corn output and 41 percent of soybeans – showed bigger yields than last year, according to inspections on the 22nd annual Pro Farmer crop tour, which ended Thursday. Corn production will be 14.178 billion bushels, compared with 14.032 billion bushels estimated by USDA, according to a survey of 13 grain company and hedge fund analysts on the tour. Soybean output was forecast at 3.861 billion, versus the government estimate of 3.816 billion.
The volunteer scouts on the four-day crop tour drove more than 15,000 miles across seven Midwest states, the biggest growing region, taking random samples by counting the number of kernels on corn ears and pods on soybean plants.
In Illinois, where the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted this month that corn yields will be 188 bushels an acre on average, the tour estimated 197 bushels an acre, up 16 percent from the same areas surveyed last year.
Surging crop supplies may exacerbate the squeeze on grain storage and shipping. BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway struggled with “greater-than normal” demand from shippers of coal, oil and Midwest crops, the USDA said this month in a report.
Combined with inventories left from the 2013 harvest, production of all grains and oilseeds will boost 2014 supply to 26.97 billion bushels, USDA data show. That’s more than the 23.4 billion of storage on farms and grain-company silos as of Dec. 1, the government estimated in a Jan. 10 report.
“I don’t know where it will all go this year,” said Richard Guse, a 54-year-old farmer from Waseca, Minn., who owns a 1-million-bushel grain elevator that he expanded in the past year by 275,000 bushels. “We need better roads and faster train shipping to keep the grain moving,” Guse said.
With the main harvest still weeks away, there is still time for crops to be damaged by weather, and not everyone is seeing better yields.
Parts of Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota had samplings that were less than last year. Ron Lampe’s 2,100 acres in Cumminstown, Iowa, were flooded by 20 inches of rain in late June, forcing him to replant more than 10 percent of his corn fields and damaging some of those that survived.
But for much of the Corn Belt, the outlook is beyond rosy.
Cory Ritter, who farms about 2,000 acres with his father near Blue Mound, Ill., said they planted more corn this year and expects to harvest 250 bushels an acre, at least 15 percent more than he originally anticipated.
“My corn has not been under any weather stress for one day,” said Ritter, 33. “The seed popped out of the ground in four days and started growing right away. Cool temperatures helped during pollination, producing big ears, and rains have come at the perfect time all season. It’s my best crop ever.”