Harvesting of Douglas County's two biggest crops is going so strong that a dormant North Lawrence elevator has been drafted into action.
Ottawa Cooperative Assn. this week opened its North Lawrence elevator, 325 Locust St., in a move intended to lighten the load on the co-op's Midland elevator 5 miles to the north.
The co-op hadn't intended to open its concrete, 753,000-bushel storage complex east of the Union Pacific Depot, but farmers clamored for another outlet to dump their truckloads of soybeans and corn. The co-op also is paying a premium an extra 3 cents per bushel to farmers opting for North Lawrence instead of Midland.
Judging by the line of trucks backed up onto Locust on Wednesday afternoon, farmers and co-op officials are plenty happy with the arrangement.
"We're glad they've got it open," said Ralph Kitsmiller, who farms 1,000 acres southeast of Lawrence. "It saves us a half hour to an hour per load. It's a real good feeling to know we have someplace to go with our grain."
Such prospects were cloudy at best earlier this year, as the Farmers Cooperative Assn. floundered in bankruptcy and awaited the sale of its assets including elevators in Lawrence to qualifying buyers.
The Ottawa co-op then swooped up seven of FCA's elevator locations. Now, well into the fall harvest, officials are reporting a solid return on their investment.
"We've really been pleased," said Matthew Vajnar, the co-op's grain merchandiser. "When the Lawrence co-op went bankrupt, we worried that people wouldn't trust dumping their grain in a co-op a lot of guys were left high and dry last fall, when they sold grain and were still waiting for a check. Naturally, there would be some hesitation and some doubt.
"But we've been really pleased with the response. Last year we would have been lucky to fill up an elevator one time. This time, as it is, we're having to truck and rail grain out as fast as we can because it's coming in so fast."
Strong crops are fueling the rush. Vajnar reports that more than half of the area's corn has been harvested, with yields averaging up to 100 bushels an acre on a range of 11 to 175 bushels an acre.
Soybeans are about 10 percent cut, he said, with an average yield of about 30 bushels an acre. It's a big improvement from last year, when drought shriveled the bean crop into an average yield of 10 to 15 bushels an acre.
Some farmers didn't even bother running combines last fall, unable to justify the price of fuel for so little return.
Last year beans produced about $2.7 million for area farmers, Wood said. This year the number is expected to grow to $5.4 million, although per-bushel prices $4.11 Wednesday at the North Lawrence elevator continue to lag behind the $6 and $7 prices paid in the 1980s and '90s.
"The prices still stink," said Bill Wood, ag agent for K-State Research & Extension in Douglas County. "But this year most people are pretty well satisfied."
Among them are Pat Ross.
Last year he considered himself fortunate to reap beans that yielded 30 bushels an acre on fields north of the Kansas River, near Lawrence Municipal Airport. On Wednesday he dumped about 700 bushels at the elevator.
He's hoping to average 45 bushels an acre on his 1,400 acres of beans.
"Last year we didn't have a crop and we didn't have a (good) price," said Ross, an owner of Nunemaker-Ross Farms Inc. "Now, we have a crop. At least we have something to sell."
His 1,000 acres of corn posted an average yield of 145 bushels an acre, Ross said. That was up from the 120-bushel-and-acre average a year earlier.
Tim Pearson, who normally handles the seed department for the Ottawa co-op, said he was pleased to be running the office at the elevator in North Lawrence. He tested dozens of grain loads Wednesday, and welcomed the smiles from farmers hustling to get back in their fields.
"It's great to be able to give these guys someplace to go," he said.