Quality Issues Dog the Ontario Corn Crop: However, It’s Not 1992

Corn2009400I have just gone through one of the most testing times of my farming career.  Your loyal scribe actually finished harvesting his soybeans last Monday in some glorious weather that I thought would never come.  It was one the most testing times for me because “hurrying up and waiting” doesn’t do a lot for your psyche.  I have waited many times before only to throw in the towel.  So this time after waiting more than two weeks to harvest some food grade soybeans it was very satisfying that the sun smiled on me at least to get finished up.

In many ways my soybean problems in the fall of 2009 kept me from dipping into my cornfields.  So as I dipped my combine into the cornfield I really didn’t know what to expect.  I had planted my corn in the brief early window in the first week of May.  So when my first moisture results came back with a 22% in front of them, the specter of high moisture corn and high drying bills evaporated at least for the moment.  Living and farming in extreme southwestern Ontario has its advantages and one of those is one of the longest growing seasons in Canada.  With the troubled 2009 growing season almost behind us, it’s pretty obvious I benefited from my geographic location.  The Ontario corn harvest now in high gear is certainly challenging our collective nerves.

I say that because things aren’t turning out very good for a large number of farmers in central and western Ontario.  The cold and cloudy summer had always put some big question marks in front of the Ontario crop and with frost coming in late September and early October, low test weight corn and frozen soybeans have been a challenge to manage.  At the present time farmers in Ontario corn country are doing the best they can to deal with corn that didn’t make it to maturity.  Grade 2 corn is what we always hope for but producers are dealing with grades three, four, five and sample grade corn.  Discounts at the elevator are heavy and the proverbial question is do we really want to put low-test weight corn into storage hoping it will go away later?  Needless to say, the Ontario corn harvest is going to be a big challenge.  Lower quality corn usually translates into lower yields.  I cannot see that paradigm changing in 2009.  As we move ahead in November we all know that that Canadian winter is right in front of us.  It’s pretty obvious that a fair bit of Ontario corn will not be harvested until sometime in 2010.

Of course the challenge will be what to do.  This year is often compared to 1992 in Ontario.  That was the year that corn did not mature and producers were left fending for themselves.  For instance I remember in 1992 my corn was all grade 5 with heavy discounts.  I was one of the lucky ones because many people had sample grade corn.  It looks like the 2009 situation is not as bad as the 1992 situation because at least this year we can still grade corn.  In 1992 much of it couldn’t even be graded.

This difficult fall is happening all across the North American Corn Belt.  This past week we had our friends at the USDA chimes in with their latest crop production report.  They actually reduced US corn production down to 12.921 billion bushels from their October report where they said 13.018 billion bushels.  The USDA actually raised US soybean production to 3.319 billion bushels, up from the October report of 3.250 billion bushels.  The USDA also did comment that much of the US crop is suffering from quality issues.  The general undertone of the report was it was bullish for corn, bearish for soybeans and something tells me it will all be revisited because of the quality issues everybody knows are there.

It’s the kind of year, which will give the USDA a bad name in farm country than maybe it actually deserves.  For instance the January report will probably reflect a lower yield.  However the true story on the 2009 crop probably won’t be told until late 2010 when they actually adjust acreage and find all those corn and soybeans.  It hasn’t all been bad news.  For instance, if you had told me two months ago we’d be having $4 cash corn off the combine this fall I would’ve told you, you were crazy! That’s agriculture for you.

Of course there is much more to think about like there always is.  The US dollar is at a 15 month low and the loonie is back over $.95 US.  That will surely challenge us for another day.  Job one now though is to get this crop off the fields in whatever state it finds itself.  Hopefully next summer it will be so stinking hot we won’t have to worry about maturity issues again.  Of course the stinking hot part will give us challenges. And so it goes.