NORTH PLATTE — The soybean crop was huge this year: An estimated 345 million bushels were produced in Nebraska and 4.6 billion bushels across the United States.
Both numbers are records. At the same time, demand is down because of Chinese tariffs.
Producers have been "scrambling to find places to put beans," said Kent Weems, grain manager for the Ag Valley Cooperative facility in North Platte. Usually a large part of the crop is sold and shipping arrangements are made before the beans are out of the field. Not this year.
China is, or was, a huge market for American-grown soybeans, not only for human consumption but also to feed its large hog production.
Record-level corn production in Nebraska has put a strain on short-term storage for that commodity, too. However, soybeans take bin space in preference to corn, which is less likely to go out of condition.
"It's not a pretty picture," said Roric Paulman of Sutherland. He has enough storage on his farm, but many farmers do not. "We have a neighbor using a couple of our bins."
A more frequently used alternative is storing corn in bags on the ground, the North Platte Telegraph reported.
Last year was the first year Robert Wiseman of Hershey stored corn in bags. At about $60,000 new, purchasing the bagger and loading equipment is expensive, he said, but it can be attractive compared with the cost of building a bin or paying storage costs from year to year.
A big advantage to bagging is that "the combine can keep moving," rather than waiting on trucks to travel and unload at the bin site.
"You don't have to wait in lines at the elevator" either, and the combine can keep moving at night after the elevator is closed.
Typically bags lie in fields and must be emptied by spring planting time. However, they can be left into summer without the grain going out of condition, Wiseman said. There is an absence of air inside the bags, which reduces risks of molding and insects.
The bags are typically made of polyethylene. Wiseman said they cost about 5 cents per bushel and are recyclable, but not reusable. Each foot of the 10-foot-diameter bags will hold 45-50 bushels.
This year Wiseman has four corn-filled bags lying in an alfalfa field with about 16,200 to 18,000 bushels in each bag. The bags are each 400 feet long, but "you lose about 20 feet on each end" for closure and machine connections, he said.
Regarding soybean prices, "We're not out of the woods yet," Paulman said. "When South America starts filling the demand with new crop beans," in March and April, it will put new downward pressure on prices.
In spite of current challenges, Paulman said he is optimistic about the future.
"The whole thing is, we finally have a president that's willing to stand his ground," he said. "If we've got some short-term pain for long-term gain," it will be worth it.