Each time Paul Jeschke’s phone buzzed, the news got worse.
Like other farmers in this part of north-central Illinois, Jeschke regularly receives text messages on his phone that alert him to the latest selling prices of corn, one of his two main crops alongside soybeans, at a local rail market that ships corn off to markets in the Southeast. And on this day, in the heat of COVID-19 shutdowns in late March, his phone never stopped buzzing with news of falling prices.
The reason: 45 miles away, suffering from poor road fuel demand, a plant that turns corn into ethanol had shut down. Now farmers who typically sold corn to the ethanol plant were redirecting their corn to the rail market instead. Inundated with offers, the rail market could get away with buying corn at far lower prices than typical. “It was just a huge, huge drop,” said Jeschke, who farms several thousand acres with his nephew and brother-in-law near Mazon, Illinois.