Huge corn crop causes snags

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LANSING—Harvested corn is stacking up faster than it can be shipped out of Michigan, leaving some distribution and storage facilities temporarily closed and experts looking for alternate uses.
“I can’t get it out as fast as it’s coming in,” said Steve Falkenstein, executive manager of the Andersons Inc. in White Pigeon, a grain storage and handling company that distributes corn and operates ethanol plants.
Falkentein said his indoor and outdoor storage areas are full, causing shutdowns of up to three days.
Theresa Sisung, communications and programs coordinator of the Michigan Corn Growers Association, said an excess crop is increasingly common.
Michigan has set production records in the past three years, and Sisung said she expects this year to be the fourth.
Another reason for this year’s glut is that August was drier than usual, making yields ready earlier than normal, according to Jody Pollok-Newsam, the association’s executive director.
That created a storage backup problem because the soybean season is just finishing, Pollok-Newsam said.
Another factor in the backup is that trains aren’t coming in fast enough to ship the corn out. Most of Michigan’s corn in 2009 was shipped out of state, said Sisung.
Because shipping is slowed down and many storage facilities are full, some farmers have no place to store their corn.
Sisung said the situation isn’t unique to Michigan. There was a surplus of 38 million bushels in Michigan’s 2008-09 growing season, compared with the nationwide total of 1.7 billion. This year, she estimates a Michigan surplus of 44 million bushels.
Counties with the highest yields include Huron, Lenawee, Allegan, Monroe, Montcalm, Tuscola, Newaygo and Cass.
“Each year, we grow more corn than we have a market for,” said Pollok-Newsam. “That’s why things like ethanol are important.”
Falkentein said corn doesn’t go to waste because there is demand, not only in food production, but also for livestock feed and ethanol. The Andersons has an ethanol plant in Albion that converts corn to fuel.
“We typically overproduced in the last few years because of the demand for ethanol,” said Rick Hollister, the company’s area sales manager for Michigan. “In years like this where we have extra bushels and yield, the market will eventually absorb it.”
Hollister said ethanol doesn’t take corn away from the food or feed markets. In making ethanol, he said, all that’s taken from the corn is the starch. The leftover fat and protein are then turned into a supplement for animal feed.
Jeff Sandborn, a corn farmer in Portland who currently has no storage problems, said most of his crop is used for animal feed and ethanol.
Sandborn estimates that between 25 and 30 percent of the nation’s corn is used to produce of ethanol. He said profit and efficiency drive farmers to produce more corn.
“Farmers grow more corn because there’s more use for it,” he said. “Ethanol is a good use for corn.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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