Depressed prices and record harvest put corn farmers at risk

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A record corn harvest combined with depressed prices is putting Minnesotan farmers at risk from both financial and physical harm.

As government figures predict this year's harvest will break the 14 billion bushels mark, the price of corn has plunged. And despite a rally in the last week, it still stands at little more than $3.53 per bushel, AgWeb reports – just over two years after hitting a record high of $8.28.

Minnesota's farmers alone are expected to harvest more than 1.3 billion bushels this year, according to the Pioneer Press, but they will be harder hit than most by the low prices because their crop took a hit from June's heavy rains.

Although the impact of the rain is not as bad as first feared, MPR reports farmers can only realistically expect to break even because of the depressed market, a reversal from recent years when profits have been hefty.

Many farmers will put much of their corn in storage in the hope that prices will increase, which can also be risky.

Adam Czech, of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, told the Associated Press some farmers are still holding onto corn from last year in case prices increased, and that storing this year's crop could see them use older, lower-quality grain bins that may on occasion require the farmer to climb in.

The St. Cloud Times reports that grain bin accidents are a leading cause of injury among farmers, which is widely considered one of the most dangerous industries in the world.

Dan Martens, an agricultural educator at the University of Minnesota's Extension Service, told the paper that the longer hours and stress of harvesting can lead to casual attitude towards their own safety.

Corn farmers are also being hit by issues with the state's railway system, with grain pick-ups beset with delays, and space on trains at a premium because of competition from companies transporting oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.

This is causing more crops being stored in grain bins, though some farmers are finding more innovative solutions to their storage problems once their bins are full.

According to the Star Tribune, some have taken to using "grain bags." Crops are simply wrapped in a giant, 300-foot long polyethylene bag and left in the fields, the paper explains.

It gives them an alternative to transporting excess crops to local elevators, or forking out to build expensive new grain bins, though the article notes that the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association says leaving corn in the grain bags could affect the quality of the crop.

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