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Farmers cash in by selling soybeans bound for China

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An increasing number of farmers in Jefferson County are cashing in by selling truckloads of soybeans to China.

The number of 100-ton rail cars loaded with soybeans to be exported at Rudd’s Town and Country Store in Watertown is slated to triple compared with last year, store owner Jeffrey M. Rudd said. The operation is managed at a loading dock behind the store at 19748 Route 232, which is linked to the CSX Transportation rail line.

Workers at the store filled five rail cars full of soybeans Tuesday, which were taken to Syracuse during the evening. The beans then go to Newark, where they are shipped overseas to China.

“Last year, we shipped 14 loads, and we’re already finishing our 25th load today,” Mr. Rudd said. “We might be up to 45 loads by the end of December.”

Mr. Rudd, who launched the operation three years ago, said that about 15 of the county’s 30 soybean growers are participating this year, five more than last year. To sign up, farmers establish contracts specifying the amount of soybeans they will sell with a broker from Interstate Commodities of Tampa Bay, Fla., an exporting company that purchases soybeans from states across the Northeast to be shipped overseas. After soybeans are harvested in the fall, farmers deliver them at Rudd’s to make good on their contracts.

“A lot of farms are now growing soybeans as a cash crop and adding it to their rotation,” said Mr. Rudd, who’s harvested soybeans for 10 years on farms in Adams and Rodman. “Some farmers used to only harvest enough soybeans for their own farms, but this gives them more of an incentive to sell them.”

Mr. Rudd doubled the size of his soybean crop to 170 acres this season by decreasing the size of his corn crop.

“In the spring, corn prices were below $5, so I doubled my acres on the beans,” he said. “It’s a lucrative cash crop.”

Though some cornfields suffered losses because of the drought, Mr. Rudd said, soybean crops fared better overall because they didn’t require rainfall until August, when plants start to bud. While June and July recorded low rainfall this summer, he said, August received enough to make most soybean crops successful.

“The life saver was getting that rain in August because when the plants are flowering, they need moisture to pollinate,” he said, adding that most farmers harvested a healthy average of 50 bushels per acre.

The season’s prices for soybeans were also a boon for farmers. While prices sank to $11 a bushel last year, the crop is now selling for about $15 a bushel. The amount farmers are paid for crops, however, varies based on the market prices when contracts are established. Mr. Rudd signed a contract in May to sell 100 tons of soybeans at $13.20 a bushel, for example, but later sold the remaining 100 acres in October at $14.95 a bushel.

Deciding when to sell “is always a gamble,” he said. “The prices went above $17 in July, but I was worried we wouldn’t get enough rain at that time.”

Cape Vincent dairy farmer Lyle J. Wood harvested 400 acres of soybeans this season and is partnering with Mr. Rudd to sell the crop for the first time. He locked in a contract in April to sell the cash crop at $13.35 a bushel, about $3 more than last year. And by rotating his crops from corn to soybeans, he said, the soil on the farm stays rich with key nutrients.

“You get the required nitrogen in the ground that breaks up the soil,” he said. “You’re kind of jeopardizing yourself if you grow only corn, and this is a way to diversify.”

Mr. Wood is one of many soybean growers who have expanded their crops in Jefferson County over the past decade. Data from the U.S. Agriculture Census show there were about 2,400 acres in the county in 2002, while there is now roughly 10,000. Since 2002, prices have roughly tripled from $5.50 to more than $15 a bushel today.

“Our core group of growers have expanded their acres because the price of beans is more valuable,” Jefferson County field crops educator Michael E. Hunter said. “It was hard to justify doing it when they were at $5 a bushel.”

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