THANKS to what some are calling a once-in-a-lifetime event, 2012 is shaping up to be one of those years Manitoba corn growers have always dreamed about.
About 780 of them gambled that this would be a good year to plant corn, and boosted the number of seeded acres in Manitoba by nearly 50 per cent to 266,000 acres, preliminary data compiled by the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation show.
And now it looks like that gamble may pay off for many of them.
The vice-president of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association said most of the farmers he has spoken to are looking at harvesting near bumper crops this year, thanks to near-perfect growing conditions in much of the Red River Valley.
And what's even sweeter is that it's coming at a time when North American corn prices are hitting record levels of more than $8 per bushel in the wake of skyrocketing demand for corn from consumers, livestock growers and ethanol producers, and the worst drought in half a century in the largest corn-growing region in the world -- the U.S. Midwest.
MCGA vice-president Myron Krahn, who planted about 500 acres of corn on his farm near Carman, said a bumper corn crop for Manitoba is anything more than 130 bushels per acre.
He and most of the other growers he has talked to are looking at getting at least 120 bushels per acre if the hot weather and timely rain continue for another month or so, and the frost holds off until late September when most of the corn will be off the fields and in the bins.
While that's still a lot of ifs, Krahn feels pumped.
"It's really exciting to be a corn producer. It's looking very, very promising."
Morgan Cott, a field agronomist with the MCGA, agreed.
"I would say everything is looking really, really good," Cott said. "I think everybody is going to be pretty happy this year."
Cott said the Steinbach area didn't get the same timely rain as other parts of southern Manitoba, so farmers there may be looking at slightly lower yields. But they should still have a pretty decent crop, she added.
The president of the Washington-based National Farmers Union has described the combination of a devastating drought in the U.S. corn belt, soaring demand and record high prices as a "once-in-a-lifetime event."
"I would be getting crops out of the field and into the grain elevator as fast as possible," Roger Johnson told Bloomberg News.
Derek Brewin, an associate professor with the University of Manitoba's agri-business and agricultural economics department, said the number of corn growers and the number of acres seeded has been growing rapidly in Manitoba in recent years as producers respond to the combination of high prices and high demand.
He said there have been other occasions -- the mid-1990s for example -- when excessive heat badly damaged U.S. corn crops and drove up prices.
"But it wasn't as dramatic as this because we didn't have the ethanol demand that you have today. That's part of the reason why the price spike has been so dramatic."
Brewin said this also isn't the first time corn prices have hit $8 a bushel. It happened early last year, as well.
He said beef and hog producers will be particularly hard hit by the run-up in prices.
They're probably looking at paying about 20 per cent more for feed corn this year.
Consumers are also looking at paying more for processed corn products such as canned corn or corn syrup, he said.
But because the cost of the raw corn is only a small part of the cost of a processed product, the price increase in the grocery stores will likely be only about five per cent, he said.