Lansing — Michigan is bursting at the seams with corn and soybeans, according to the latest storage report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But that’s not necessarily a good thing, agriculture experts say.
Farmers have stockpiled so much of the food staples that they don’t have a place to put them all. Corn stocks in Michigan have soared 26 percent from last year to 49.2 million bushels, while soybean stocks climbed 20 percent, to 7.1 million bushels, the Agriculture Department said.
Only about 38 percent of that can be stored, leaving some farmers worried about where they’ll put it all. For the time being, they keep it in silos, ship it to collective storage facilities or sell it.
“We’re producing more than we ever have,” said Kate Thiel, a crop advisory specialist with the Michigan Farm Bureau.
Advances in biotechnology have made corn and soybeans more resilient to bugs and weather and increased yield. Meanwhile, more farmers growing globally have helped production climb and prices drop. As prices drop, less corn and soybeans are sold as farmers wait for a bigger buck for their grain.
Nationwide, farmers were clinging on to 301 million bushels of old soybeans in 2016, according to the USDA. That’s 53 percent more than in 2015.
So if there’s not enough storage, why don’t farmers just sell what they have?
“We’re eternal optimists,” said Caleb Stewart, 35, a Clinton County corn, soybean and hog farmer who has been in the field for 15 years since he graduated from Michigan State University in agricultural business management.
That optimism means it’s tough to hold on to all the earth’s bounty, Stewart said.
So Stewart, like many other farmers, will only be able to store about 30 or 40 percent of his 1,000-acre plot of corn, soybeans and wheat. He’ll sell much of it off to Carbon Green Bio Energy, an ethanol plant in Lake Odessa.
But that doesn’t guarantee some won’t go to waste. Stewart said he can’t just build new storage silos because it can take years of planning and contracting before one is complete. The harvest happens much too soon for that.
“We have to go out and harvest it,” he said. “If I have to put it on the floor of my machine shed … we will make do if we have to. But hopefully we don’t have to.”
Robert Geers, a grain merchandiser at Michigan Ag Commodities said Michigan should be able, on paper, to store all the crops it grows.
Farmers just need to take advantage of temporary storage and account for what they’ll sell, Geers said.
If railroads do what they’re meant to, export markets stay open and the harvest begins early and goes through November, all will be well, he said.
“But nothing always works as well as it looks on paper,” Geers said.
Like every year in farming, they’ll just have to wait and see.