By STUART ELLIS
It is ironic. The Farm Progress Show used to be held the last week in September, but attendance was hurt because many farmers were planting corn earlier and they would be in the field harvesting at that time.
To avoid that conflict, the Farm Progress Show was moved up to the last week in August to attract farmers before harvest. And ironically, some farmers will be in the field this year harvesting. You just can't win.
Before the end of August many farmers will be pulling their corn out of the field, because it "speed-grew" this summer. The additional heat accumulated growing degree days quicker than usual and tens of thousands of acres not only matured earlier than expected, but many more died from lack of water. The result will be yields that will be at least 25 percent less than normal, and test weights that will be in the low 50 pounds per bushel range, instead of pushing toward 60 pounds.
With some rough calculations about the middle third of Illinois, nearly 5.5 million acres of corn were likely planted this year, and in a normal year yields would be 175 to 200 bushels per acre. When you remove 25 percent of that yield, it represents 240 million bushels of corn that was not produced and not available for sale at the $6.70 average price that Department of Agriculture has forecast for the marketing year beginning September. That represents $1.6 billion in lost corn sales for farmers in that central third of Illinois.
That money would have been used to purchase farm equipment, make farmstead improvements, make community contributions, and purchase additional farmland. But not in the coming year. That money will never see a bank account.Since the corn does not exist, neither will the money.
While some pundits will say farmers have been doing well lately, and they have, the loss of the money is really a loss to the community in the form of reduced purchases, fewer jobs, and less investment that can be turned into the public good.
Interestingly, it may also have an impact on the farmland market in the central part of the state. Since 2004 land prices in Illinois have climbed over 200 percent, in part because of improved commodity prices and because Wall Street investors have wanted a more stable investment opportunity.
In the coming year, fewer farmers may be bidding on farmland; and those farmers who do bid may shake their head a little earlier than they would have otherwise. While the land will sell, it may sell for $10,000 per acre instead of $11,000 per acre if there are fewer farmers who are bidding. And slowing down the rapidly rising price of land may not be such a bad thing.
But what will happen when farmers, who are still going to record profitability in 2011, get to the Farm Progress Show and see the technology that will allow them to remain profitable in 2012? Many agribusinesses are planning their largest new equipment and new product introductions ever, which was planned to take advantage of good commodity prices and good yields that had left farmers flush with cash.
There will still be many farmers coming to the event to compare and evaluate in preparation for buying when they return home. But for those farmers in the 100 mile radius of Decatur whose yields are less than stellar may be more conservative of what they put on their wish list when they get back home.
They can afford new equipment, but just like their corn crop, their bank account may be a truckload short of a full bin.