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John Eisle, an employee at Audubon Elevator, has his hands full these days processing the corn harvest. Photo by - Paula Quam

Corn harvest is golden

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It's an unprecedented sight in Audubon - at least as far as local farmers remember.

Niblets of "gold" are piled up higher than the tops of the trucks that hauled the corn in.

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"It's the first time we've ever had to pile it on the ground ... we just don't have room for it all," said Audubon Grain Elevator Manager Chuck Morrison, who's been in the business for 50 years.

"I did pile some wheat back in the 60's, but never corn," he said, smiling almost as broadly as the farmers lined up to dump their abundant bushels.

Two things have these farmers whistling a happy tune -- extremely high yields and even higher corn prices.

Drought throughout the breadbasket of the country wiped out an enormous amount of corn in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

Their unfortunate season has many local growers, who were lucky enough to be under the right rain clouds, cashing in as demand soars above supply.

And although rain wasn't overly abundant throughout the region this summer either, it proved to be just enough for corn.

"We also had a hot summer, and corn loves heat," said Jim Velde, loan manager at USDA Farm Service in Detroit Lakes. "But there are some pockets where either the rain didn't hit or the soil was just too light and sandy, and those places didn't get up to average."

Velde says aside from those "pockets," corn yields were up to anywhere between 125 to 160 bushels per acre at around $6 to $7 per bushel. He also says soy beans aren't doing too shabby either: They are sitting at around $15 per bushel.

But it's the corn that's a big deal this year. Adding to piles of profit is the fact that the actual harvest is also proving to be slightly early and perfectly dry. As each truck rolls through the weigh station of a grain elevator, a sample of its corn is analyzed for moisture.

If it's too high, the corn has to wait at the elevator while it dries, which of course is an additional expense for the farmer.

As of Tuesday, only one load of corn out of the seemingly endless stream of trucks sifting through Audubon had corn that required drying.

"That was nice, not having to battle the moisture," said Aaron Willie, a Detroit Lakes area farmer of 16 years.

Willie's 350 acres of corn meant this year would still be considered a good one for him, his wife and two children - despite the fact that he also milks 100 cows.

"Yeah, that's not going as well," said Willie, who says low milk prices and high feed prices make it tough. "But the corn will help offset that," he said.

Fellow farmer Brad Hoffert, who has farmed just north of Detroit Lakes for about 30 years, knows that mixed bag all too well.

He also has both corn and cattle, and ends up feeding one to the other.

"I use my own corn for feed, but boy is that hard to put that spendy feed through the cattle," said Hoffert, who says it's the best year he's ever had for corn. "Unbelievable, actually," he added.

But the valuable commodities aren't free and clear just yet.

The piles that sit on the ground in Audubon and next to other area grain elevators are now once again vulnerable to Mother Nature.

"We just have to hope that we don't get a lot of rain - that wouldn't be good for it, "said Morrison, who will try to get all of the corn out of there within a month.

He says most of it will either go to ethanol plants or will be shipped via train down to the west coast. Ideally, the rain will hold off until then.

"But hopefully after that we'll see some rain, otherwise next year the farmers will suffer because this soil is pretty much sucked dry, and snow doesn't really help," said Morrison.

So, these happy farmers will once again be doing what they've done a thousand times ... looking up to the sky, crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.

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