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Associated Press, Published January 05 2010

Minnesota's yet-to-be harvested corn worth $200M

LEOTA, Minn. — Lon Anker still has about 100 acres of corn to harvest, and the snowdrifts reach the top of some of the stalks. Yet if the winter isn't too rough and spring brings good weather, Anker's farm in southwestern Minnesota could still see an above average yield.

"The corn stand is good; it's looking good now yet," Anker said.

Minnesota Public Radio News reported that the corn on Anker's farm is part of an estimated 5 percent of the state's corn crop that remains to be harvested, with a total value about $200 million. Farmers hope to harvest the corn this spring and still salvage some profit. How well their fields make it through the winter will be important for the state's corn industry, a roughly $4 billion annual business.

The Christmas storm dropped 20 inches of snow on Anker's farm, and strong winds piled it into deep drifts, especially on the edge of his field, where the corn acted like a snow fence.

"Field loss will be where the biggest drifts are," Anker told MPR. "The snow will take the ears and strip them and they'll fall on the ground."

But just beyond the drifts, the snow is well below the ears and the stalks there appear undamaged.

Anker said his unharvested corn is worth about $60,000. He expects to lose about 7 percent of those ears on the 100 acres to winter damage. But if he's lucky his loss will be more than offset by a big saving — the corn will dry down on its own by next spring, saving him the cost of expensive fuel for drying it.

"Drying costs about $100 an acre," says Anker. "We decided to take it out in March or April and let it dry naturally in the field. And we'd just take the loss on what gets snowed under."

If Anker can't benefit from the lost ears, wildlife can. Pheasants, deer and other animals are likely to find shelter among the standing stalks, which will cost him some corn. And it's an opportunity for the rabbits.

"They can climb on the snowbanks and get at the ears," he said. "Otherwise they wouldn't be able to get at the ears"

It's unusual to find so much unharvested corn in the winter, said Mark Schultz, chief grain analyst with Northstar Commodity. But a wet fall, followed by snowstorms, kept farmers out of many fields.

"Maybe once every 15 years that it gets to be to this extreme," Schultz said.

Schultz said most of the Midwest had weather problems. North Dakota farmers have the worst situation right now, with more than a quarter of their corn crop still in the field.

Heavy snow this winter followed by a wet spring would make matters more difficult, he said. Farmers would have to wait for their fields to dry in the spring before they could finish last year's harvest, which would push back spring planting, possibly cutting into next year's yields.

So the heavy December snows are cause for concern. But farmers like Anker are hoping the weather breaks in their favor.

Standing in deep snow, Anker picked an ear of corn. It was filled with symmetrical rows of kernels. He hopes it's a preview of what he'll find when he finally harvests the field next spring.

"So far, so good," he said.

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