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USDA: Despite late start, record corn crop likely

Published 3:13pm Friday, May 10, 2013

DES MOINES — The wet start to the corn planting season is expected to reduce the amount each acre produces this year, but farmers are planting so much of the crop that they’re still likely to bring in a record amount.

In a report released Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated farmers will bring in 14.1 billion bushels of corn this year, a billion bushels more than the previous record of 13.1 billion bushels set in 2009.

The USDA expects farmers to harvest an average of 158 bushels per acre, a 3.4 percent reduction from the 163.6 bushels predicted in February. The downward adjustment, an unusual move this early in the year, is due to delayed planting caused by a cold, wet spring.

“I can’t remember them ever adjusting yield this early,” said Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University. “Typically they wait until June.”

Lowering the expectation by 5.6 bushels per acre removes about 450 million bushels of corn from the anticipated harvest, he said.

Even with the adjustment, farmers are planting more than 97.3 million acres of corn, the largest acreage since 1936 when 102 million acres were planted. In Arizona, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota and Oregon cornfields will occupy more land than ever before.

The increased acreage means that a below-average yield will result in a record crop. The expected 158 bushels an acre is still about 30 bushels an acre better than last year’s average harvest amount per acre because of the severe drought that consumed much of the nation, the corn belt especially.

Farmers have planted just 12 percent of the nation’s cornfields, the most recent USDA report said Tuesday. That’s about a quarter of what would was planted by this date over the previous five years, and it marks the slowest start in decades in some states.

Numbers have been even worse in Iowa, the nation’s biggest corn-producing state, where only 8 percent of the corn crop is in the ground, down from 62 percent the same time last year. The USDA says it’s the slowest planting pace since 1995 in Iowa.

Some farmers may decide to switch their fields from corn to soybeans, which can be planted into early June and still have a good harvest if the Midwest doesn’t dry out, said Dan Cekander, director of grain market analysis at Newedge USA, a commodity brokerage firm in Chicago.

“If the rain would happen to keep the central corn belt waterlogged as it is through early June then I think producers are going to have some tough decisions to make,” said Cekander, who also farms in Illinois. “Do they stay with the corn or not? We’ve got a little more time here to chip away at that before it’s really crunch time.”