Wheaton corn pile photo courtesy: Jon Mathias
WHEATON, Minn. - Downhill skiers live unfulfilled lives on the pancake-flat prairies of Traverse County. Which made it all the more obvious when from out of nowhere, a mountain appeared.
"I feel like I'm in Vail," laughs Monica Wilson, who stands at the foot of a 1.5 million-bushel mountain of corn.
The corn pile sprung up the past few weeks a few hundred feet from Wilson's workplace. "It's just this amazing view right out the window."
The pile fills nearly the entire infield of the racetrack at the Traverse County fairgrounds, within a stone's throw of a second pile roughly one million bushels in size.
"It's by far and away the biggest crop we've ever handled," says Philip Deal, general manager of the Wheaton-Dumont Co-op Elevator, which started both piles when the corn crop began coming in faster than available rail cars could haul it away.
More striking than the size of the pile is the context in which it grew. In the midst of the nation's worst drought in decades, Traverse County farmers found themselves in the path of seemingly every rain cloud - until they needed dry weather for harvest, which was also perfectly timed so farmers could avoid costly mechanical corn drying.
"It's been a year to remember," says Craig Lichsonn, whose 1,600 acres of corn averaged more than 210 bushels, the most he's ever harvested. The growing season was equally favorable to his 1,400 acres of soybeans.
"We were just truly blessed this year," he says.
The extent of the blessing is not fully realized until commodity prices are factored into the equation. With corn prices pushed to $7.00 per bushel because of the drought, the two corn piles at the fairgrounds are worth roughly $17 million.
"That's why we close the gates at night," laughs Deal.
Closed gates or not, scores of deer tracks leading to the pile suggest farmers have been sharing their bounty.
Wheaton's John Deere dealer, Larson's LLC, also figures to take a bite of the record harvest. Based on early traffic, parts manager Rob Niss foresees brisk business for new tractors and combines. "We're seeing a lot of smiles," he says.
Deal hopes to have the corn piles removed and shipped by December. He expects most of the corn to stay in the U.S. to meet demand in areas hit hardest by drought.
Wilson has other plans. "If they don't get it off the ground by the end of December, we might be out here with sleds," she laugh.
At the foot of the mountain, Wheaton is both giddy and golden.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)