Illinois corn industry feels the effects of Katrina

By Sky Opila

Besides worrying about one of Illinois’ worst droughts ever, the corn farmers of Illinois find themselves taking an even bigger hit in crop profits due to Hurricane Katrina.

Many farmers recently just began harvesting their corn. However, they are unsure of what their own yields will be due to droughts. A lot of corn has been lost from wind and other environmental factors, which placed farmers in a bind before the hurricane even hit.

Many farmers fear an inability to yield crops because of the drought.

“Right now, it’s been a pretty bad year,” said Chris Massie, sophomore in ACES and a native of Williamsfield, Ill., a farming community. “All in all, it’s just going to be worse for the crop farmers because of increased oil prices and the drought this past summer.”

In addition to problems for farmers in the United States, Katrina has caused problems for America’s positioning in international markets.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    “We have to make sure we have a way to provide our products to our export customers,” said Leon Corzine, president of the National Corn Growers Association. “Otherwise, that market could be replaced with foreign competitors.”

    Companies such as Archer Daniel Midland Co. in Decatur, Ill., still have large backups at grain elevators that are leading to a surplus of corn in certain regions. The magnitude of corn backing up grain elevators has resulted in outdoor storage of some goods, a major problem if weather is not perfect. This back up at the grain elevators is forcing farmers, who are trying to get their products to various markets, to play the waiting game to determine when and how they will sell their goods, according to several experts.

    Yet, some press reports released by the National Grain and Feed Association claim that corn back ups may be diverted towards helping feed victims of Hurricane Katrina through government funding.

    Initially, commercial traffic on the Mississippi River had been almost at a stand still. This posed a major problem because 55 to 70 percent of the U.S. raw grain is exported through the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico ports.

    However, in an online Sept.12 press statement, Randall C. Gordon, vice president of communications and government relations for the National Grain and Feed Association, said there have been three major improvements since Hurricane Katrina occurred: grain elevators along the Mississippi have been restored to conduct limited operations, navigational improvements on the Mississippi River finally are allowing day and night traffic to start again, and many workers were permitted to enter facilities with security restrictions.

    According to a statement by the National Grain and Feed Association, the New Orleans Gulf area is responsible for 60 to 70 percent vessel-borne shipments. Approximately 50 percent of U.S. wheat, 25 percent of U.S. corn and 35 percent of U.S. soybeans are exported via New Orleans Gulf Ports.

    Rick Whitacre, professor of agricultural economics at Illinois State University, has done some research comparing figures from grain elevators based on pre-Katrina and post-Katrina grain pricing.

    “Since Katrina, we generally saw a 25 cent to 30 cent decline in corn prices,” Whitacre said.

    Despite the devastation, Whitacre said that the Gulf ports’ ability to export corn has improved nearly 70 percent since the hurricane hit.

    However, Whitacre also mentioned some long-term issues.

    “Some barges are not completely full or need to be split into two parts to make it through the lock-and-dam system,” Whitacre said. “This causes a large scale slowing of traffic on a regular basis.”

    Without adequate systems to move large barges smoothly down the Mississippi River, Whitacre said it would take longer to repair the damage.

    “As the Gulf is untangled, we are seeing more and more barge traffic,” Whitacre said. “However, we can’t escape that this will take time.”