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Corn and Ethanol Prices Collapse—Good Time to Plant Potatoes!

Maybe farmers should look at pivoting to local production of edible crops. The bottom is dropping out of the already glum ethanol-corn market:

The per-gallon price paid to ethanol producers has fallen to record lows, dropping 37% in one month from $1.24 a gallon on Feb. 27, 2020, to just 78 cents a gallon on March, 27, 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The per-gallon price in late March was down 47% from a recent high of $1.47 per gallon in South Dakota in late November.

The per-bushel price paid to South Dakota corn producers has followed the downward trend in the ethanol industry. According to USDA, the per-bushel price of corn fell by 16% from $3.57 per bushel on Feb. 28 to only $2.99 per bushel on March 27 [Bart Pfankuch, “S.D. Ethanol Industry and Corn Growers Facing Economic ‘Bloodbath’ Due to COVID-19 Pandemic,” South Dakota News Watch, 2020.04.06].

We’re not driving much on any fuel, petro-, corno-, or electro-. Corn farmers should take a cue from Tesla. If Elon Musk can switch to making ventilators, farmers can turn to making other things their neighbors need right now: sweet corn, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, peppers, cucumbers, grain….

workers in organic farm field
Need more workers to produce and harvest vegetables? We might have some spare workers available this year….

Stop feeding the factories, farmers; get back to feeding the world.


  1. Chris S. 2020-04-07 07:20

    Elon Musk did not switch to making ventilators. He’s all hype and self-promotion, like a certain other public figure, and (also like a certain other public figure) an eager group of people always buys the hype.

  2. T 2020-04-07 09:03

    I’m sure Broin is still building his McMansion up on a hill, behind his $1 million wall…while he furloughs workers/families.

  3. Bill Rosin 2020-04-07 10:06

    unemployment problem? we need all hands on deck for implementing local systems, food, renewable energy, even locally grown fibers (wool, hemp fiber), local building materials, maybe even local currencies. We should take a lesson from our indigenous neighbors on how to live as they did in the past, sustainably, and with respect for mother earth.

  4. mike from iowa 2020-04-07 10:53

    Got most of my spud seed bought. Valero in Hartley, iowa has switched over to making hand sanitizer. There must be hundreds of rail tank cars sitting there on sidings.l

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-04-07 12:49

    One challenge to putting all those unemployed to work in South Dakota’s vast new potato and tomato fields will be maintaining social distance between workers.

  6. James from SD 2020-04-07 16:29

    As much as I would like to say our SD farmers could do this, its not feasible to do large scale. Most table fresh vegetables are planted and/or harvested by hand, and use a lot of water from irrigation.
    Crops like potatoes need special equipment that is expensive.

  7. jerry 2020-04-07 19:25

    Good points all, small is the new big.

  8. Clyde 2020-04-07 21:07

    Nice to be an optimist but have you priced potatoes? Farmers took a hard look at alternative crops in the Reagan 80’s. The NATION requires only 10 acres of horse radish a year. One irrigated quarter section [160 acres] is enough to provide the city of Omaha with all of its sweet corn requirements for a year.

    Still it doesn’t make a lot of sense to grow all our fresh veggies in California or places farther south. Cheap energy and cheap labor make that happen. Appears there may be real shortages of lots of crops this year that require hand picking because of the C virus. The smart thing to do is as Mike has done. Plant your own. We will have a large garden as usual and may even start planting potatoes again. Not because of economics but because I really like new potatoes.

    Here’s an option other than building big contract hog houses in our governors stink allowing newly zoned state.

  9. mike from iowa 2020-04-07 21:16

    Can fresh, long keeping veggies be used by food banks? You don’t dare go to Farmers Markets and give produce away. I have people come out and help harvest what they want and they can donate a buck or two if they want. I don’t charge anyone for anything, not even tons of aspersions in the Spring. But I do take donations for future seeds and fuel for tiller. I am not in this for money. My Mother of blessed memory, instilled a love of gardening in me and I even inherited a fraction of her green thumb. Too bad my sons and Grands have shown little interest in communing with Mother Earth.

  10. Debbo 2020-04-08 00:36

    Mike, in answer to your first question, Yes! And there is a lot of need because the food shelves have recently acquired new customers.

  11. T 2020-04-08 08:57

    5001 E. Imani Ridge Place.
    6,000+ square feet.
    Search the SF GIS, and it shows the owner being “Silver Creek Trust”. Silver Creek, Wisconsin is actually where Mrs. Broin grew up.
    Just under 50 acres, south of Great Bear ski, near the old Cactus Heights area.
    I’m sure he can see his corner office from there.
    The nice kicker is the $1 million wall…a spectacle in granite and ostentatiousness.

  12. Moses6 2020-04-08 19:04

    will there not be a 28 billion bail out for farmers to replace that 2.40 corn.Why just not plant anything and get a check and safe that expensive fuel and then get bailed out again at the end of the year.W

  13. jerry 2020-04-09 10:05

    America is starving to death, right now. Farmers need to plant staples and ranchers need to be paid what their livestock is worth. Millions of us are not going to be able to pay the rent or buy food. The government needs to step in and do what government is supposed to do.

    “The Food Bank of Greater Omaha would normally be spending $73,000 a month on food. Now, it’s $675,000. Three Square Food Bank in Las Vegas reports spending an extra $300,000 to $400,000 a week on food. Feeding America, a network of food banks, is facing a $1.4 billion shortfall in the next six months.

    Again, many people’s immediate food needs will become less of an emergency as aid already passed by Congress reaches them. But that’s not happening quickly enough to keep people from going hungry now—and the scale of the need we’re seeing now shows that it’s not going to be enough. Congress needs to do more.”

    The jobs are gone and they ain’t coming back anytime real soon. $1,200.00 is not going to buy much with $5.00 a pound hamburger. This all lies at the feet of Rounds and Thune, our worthless senators, to do the right thing and keep people from looking like the 30’s.

  14. Clyde 2020-04-09 16:21

    Rice and beans will be standard fare for Americans in the near future, Jerry. We can’t make any money raising beef for a couple of reason’s. First off we have thrown our borders open to whoever will sell it to us cheaper regardless of quality and second the fact that beef has become an unaffordable luxury for many. That number will be skyrocketing due to what is currently going on.

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