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Area dealing with drought conditions


Fri, Jul 20th, 2012
Posted in All Features

When rain came down from the sky and the cool wind blew on Wednesday, July 18, it was a relief for everybody. Not just a relief from the heat and humidity that has been giving everyone reason to complain, but relief that the crops in the area finally got some of the water they so desperately needed.

Gary Hellickson farms outside of Preston, and he has 1200 acres of corn. This year the corn prices are higher than they have been for a long time. Hellickson sold his this week for $7.50 a bushel. Last year it sold for between $4.00 and $5.00 a bushel.

“That’s a lot,” said Hellickson. “Rarely has it ever been $6 a bushel.”

The high price of corn affects so much more than just the farmer selling it. It affects the price of food in the grocery stores. It also affects the price of ethanol.

Corn is not the only crop affected by low rainfalls. According to Hellickson, hay production is way down as well. “The pastures look like people’s lawns,” he said. “There’s nothing there, and the ground is hard as rock.”

Hellickson also grows soybeans, but said those are able to withstand drier weather better than the corn.

Even after the good rain that came recently, Fillmore County is still in drought conditions. The dry soil needs even more rain to make up for the driest year in a long time. Some of the crops have already sustained damage that can’t be fixed.

Hellickson remembers the last time the season was this dry was in 1988. “Since then we have had really good crops around here. It’s been a long time. It’s way overdue.”

People who farm know that so much depends on the weather, and they know that some years are not going to be as good as others. “You have to expect it once in a while,” said Hellickson. “But that’s the reason we don’t have any irrigation out here. Mother Nature usually takes care of us.”

Richard Eichstadt is the General Manager of POET Biorefining, the ethanol plant in Preston, and they are also working with high corn prices.

“In general for the industry higher corn prices are a challenge because it increases operating costs,” said Eichstadt. “This is not the first time we have seen high corn prices.”

Eichstadt said they have seen a lot of ups and downs in corn prices since the plant opened almost 15 years ago.

“It does require us to do things differently, and that’s what we’re doing now,” he said. “We are really sympathetic for the corn producers; we like to see them do well.”

Weather is always a challenge, but the ethanol plant has always known that, and has dealt with difficult times before. Eichstadt stated they have plans in place and have handled things well.

“Corn prices are not the only factor in our plant economics,” explained Eichstadt. “The ethanol process is important, too, as well as market prices for distiller’s grain, and carbon dioxide, which we sell.”

Hellickson predicted that an inch or two would buy more time, and there would still be a good chance of getting some good crops this year. Fillmore County received between one and two inches on Wednesday evening, which certainly helped a lot of people sleep better that night.

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