Carroll County farmers prepare for 'bountiful' harvest

Summer rains might have spoiled some vacation plans, but the wet weather has Carroll County farmers preparing for what is expected to be a plentiful fall harvest.

"I think we're going to have a very bountiful harvest," said Gary Dell, of Dell Brothers in Westminster.

Dell Brothers farms about 2,300 acres in Carroll County, split between corn (1,200 acres) and soybeans (1,100 acres).

Dell said the past two years have been "exceptional" for most farmers in Carroll because of the absence of extreme heat and humidity.

"The growing season, for the most part, in this area has been ideal," he said.

Although the fall harvest won't begin for about two more weeks, Dell said the yield could be 10 bushels per acre more than it was last year -- and last year was considered a good year.

Although farmers expect a significant yield, they might be entering a tough marketplace, particularly for corn.

Corn prices last year averaged $7 per bushel, but prices this year are expected to be in the mid-$4 range, according to Kevin McNew, an adjunct professor of agricultural and resource economics at University of Maryland.

McNew, also president of Grain Hedge, a brokerage and cash grain trading group in Montana, said a record corn production this year will ease prices from last year's highs brought on by the worst drought in 50 years.

For farmers, an up-and-down market is nothing new, according to Dell.

"If you're going to worry every time the prices go down, you wouldn't be in this business," he said.

Brad Rill, of Lippy Brothers, said 2012 represented the best corn yield ever for his farm operation, due in part to a drought in the western end of the country that drove up corn prices.

While it's still early, Rill said this year looks promising.

"You don't like to count your chickens before they hatch, but it certainly looks like it could be an awful good one," he said. "It's got a lot of potential."

Rill said Lippy Brothers could begin harvesting its 9,000 acres, including 4,600 acres of corn, as soon as Sept. 6.

Clarence Mielke, president of the family run Trenton Mill Farms in Hampstead, also believes county farmers expect a harvest similar to or better than in years past.

Mielke credits the weather, but is also quick to point out the hard work needed for a successful fall harvest.

"Like they say, 'When the sun shines, you have to make hay,' " he said.

Trenton Mills will harvest 1,100 acres of corn and 750 acres of soybeans in the coming months, but Mielke expects to be lucky to get half of last year's $7 a bushel for corn.

"The bottom has fallen out and we're not sure how far it's going to go yet," he said.

While corn prices have dropped, operational costs have not, which means farmers must push for higher yields, Mielke said.

"It's going to take more bushels to pay for the fuel, the combine, or your labor," he said.

One issue farmers could face is storage.

Mielke said Trenton Mills will start harvesting corn in about two weeks, followed by soybeans. They might have to store corn and soybeans in plastic bags.

With corn prices not what they were last year, Rill said farmers have to market their product wisely.

"If I could tell you what the market was going to do, we wouldn't have to worry about farming," he said.

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