Golden Age For Corn Growers

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It's being called the golden age of agriculture, and this planting season corn farmers like Garry Niemeyer of central Illinois are looking at a field of dreams — and dollars.

CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports that while flying over the state it looks like black gold from the air.

"Well, considering the price of farmland and the price of corn at $4.00, I think you said it right absolutely perfect," Niemeyer said.

That's because at $4.00 per buschel — nearly double last year's price — this crop could be part of the riches corn harvest in our country's history. It's a gold rush everyone wants to get in on.

This year it's estimated U.S. farmers will plat 90 million acres of corn. That's more land than in 46 of the 50 states.

Prices are high because demand is high. That's because corn is a key ingredient in ethanol. Twenty-five percent of this year's corn harvest is going to ethanol producers, up from seven percent in 2002. That means there's less corn for animal feed, which is driving up the cost of raising farm animals.

And those costs will be passed on to food shoppers.

Compared to a year ago, eggs are up 23 percent, chicken prices by as much as 27 percent, and experts say over the long haul pork and beef prices could also go up.

But taxpayers are getting a break; as corn prices go up government subsidies to farmers go down. Two hundred miles south of Chicago, Garry Niemeyer believes corn prices still haven't peaked. But he's not betting the farm just yet.

"It's taken on a life of its own and I hope it's not a bubble," Niemeyer said. "I wouldn't expect it to be to be this good more than two or three years."

After 37 years in the field, he knows there are always going to be highs — and lows.