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Record corn harvest changing rural landscape

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Minnesota's corn harvest is about a week ahead of the normal pace, despite a slow start.

The Associated Press reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the state's corn harvest is now 87 percent complete. Despite wintry weather, a statewide average of 4.5 days were suitable for fieldwork.

The USDA has projected Minnesota's corn production at 1.33 billion bushels, down 3 percent from last year's record-setting harvest.

MPR reported that the bountiful crop has pushed down prices, which will reduce or eliminate profits on the crop for most Minnesota farmers. The drop in prices has improved the outlook for livestock farmers, who buy large amounts of corn for their animals.

Since 2010, the ethanol industry has become the single-largest buyer of corn in the United States. An Associated Press investigation carried by the Forum newspapers reported that 1.5 million acres in the Dakotas and Minnesota have been turned into cornfields as farmers rushed to produce the crop to sell for ethanol production. In Minnesota, corn acreage grew 18.5 percent since 2005. Some of that land was previously held in the conservation reserve program.

The report notes that "...scientists have warned that America’s corn-for-ethanol policy would fail as an anti-global warming strategy if too many farmers plowed over virgin land. The Obama administration argued that would not happen. But the administration didn’t set up a way to monitor whether it actually happened."

The ethanol industry has disputed much of the AP report, saying that the investigation is “rife with errors” and finding fault with its sourcing and methodology.

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