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Corn Farmers Are Making Money (And Maybe, Enemies)

CORN FARMERS MAKE MONEY -- NOT APOLOGIES

How good is farming? There’s a report saying Afghanistan’s opium crop may plummet this year, as farmers switch to more profitable legal crops in a hungry world.

But here at home, it’s a strange time in Iowa. Family farmers are making good profits -- no more Farm Aid concerts. But just as they’re doing really well, they’re taking a lot of heat, especially corn farmers.

Other farmers blame the corn guys for driving up the cost of fertilizer and feed, because so much corn is being grown for ethanol. I asked Ron Litterer, president of the National Corn Growers Association, if he feels under fire: “A little bit.”

He insists corn prices are having only a minimal impact on food prices, and that the real culprit is oil. Litterer points to the oil embargo of the 1970s, when he said food prices were going up 8 percent a year, “and ethanol was not really part of the picture yet.”

And he claims that ethanol currently blended into gasoline is keeping gas prices 15 percent below where they would be otherwise -- saving consumers money. Bottom line: “I think corn farmers and soybean farmers and wheat farmers really think they deserve a little better price than they’ve had in the past,” he says, “so we’re not apologizing for that.”

John Hoffman, president of the American Soybean Association (who also grows corn), believes we will all be “surprised” by the crop this year. He says that yields, which are steadily rising thanks to new seeds and new fertilizers, will meet the demands for both food and fuel.

However, if it keeps raining off and on through the first part of May, the corn will be going into the ground so late that the fall crop may be reduced. That will not be good. That may also be one reason farmers are having a hard time locking in prices. Usually they would have got the ’09 crop all locked up by now with local buyers, but because of volatility in the futures markets, some buyers won’t offer cash contracts until 60 days from delivery.

That means Hoffman can’t get a price on his October crop until August, which adds uncertainty. However, he thinks that may end up being a good thing -- prices will probably rise.

Hoffman’s parents, Ray and Darlene, are hosting us on their farm Thursday for live TV shots. The Hoffman family homesteaded this property back in 1855. And, as a California girl, I’m always caught offguard by Midwestern kindness. Even though they were concerned my reports might hammer farmers, Darlene was out there at 5am Central time this morning with a pot of coffee and muffins. And last time I checked, she was making potato salad to go with sandwiches for lunch. She knows how to soften up the media…

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