Corn grower says feed option provides safety net

Experienced grower advises newcomers to start small to gain experience

Growing grain corn has been a challenge in Manitoba for the last few years, with acreage not booming nearly as much as soybeans.

However, farmers at the recent Manitoba Corn Growers Association annual meeting sounded optimistic about continued growth.

“In the next year or two I think we definitely have more basis for growth in corn in Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan,” Steinbach farmer Dennis Thiessen said at the Feb. 18 meeting, which was held as part of the CropConnect conference in Winnipeg.

“The breeding companies are spending a lot of money developing earlier varieties that will yield better.”

Corn’s struggles in Manitoba are the result of significant flooding in 2011 and 2014, as well as late springs and late harvests. It has killed thousands of acres of corn and slowed the spread of the crop.

Soybeans do fine with “wet feet,” but corn does not.

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An absence of flooding this year would remove one cramping factor, and earlier varieties will make more farmers in more areas willing to take a chance on the crop.

However, crop insurance difficulties mean many farmers will still not try the crop because it seems more financially risky than other crops, said Jason Hodson, who farms at Lenore, Man., near the Saskatchewan border.

“It’s too low for adequate risk management,” said Hodson, who averages 115 bushels per acre but can only insure 44 bu. per acre.

“It’s very low, and 44 doesn’t cover (what) I put into the crop.”

Hodson said farmers in his area are leery about taking a chance on corn because of the lack of a financial safety net. He has been growing corn for 12 years, first for silage and then for grain, but only because he has his own safety net in the form of livestock.

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“Our risk management is that we are a mixed farm, so we have cattle and a feedlot. We probably wouldn’t do it all for grain,” said Hodson.

“The risk coverage isn’t there, but we have the cattle so we can silage it if it doesn’t make grade or has another problem.”

Some farmers have been optimistic about corn’s future on the Prairies as maturity times get shorter, but others have been pessimistic, believing a widespread, early killing frost would drive many farmers out of corn production once they face a wreck.

Thiessen said he and experienced corn growers are always ready for that scenario, but they realize newcomers to the crop might not be as prepared.

“My advice for new growers is to not go overboard,” said Thiessen.

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“Get your feet wet. Get some experience with it. There are bust years, but hopefully it’s not more than once in nine or 10 years and you can withstand that.”