June 28, 2009 in Business

Corn crop off to slow start after late planting

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

ST. LOUIS – Across much of the nation’s Corn Belt, growers like Richard Borgsmiller finally have their crops in the ground, after spring rains swamped their fields and put them weeks behind schedule.

Many in Illinois and other rain-ravaged portions of the Midwest are now turning their sights to planting already late soybeans and hoping the weather will cut them some slack.

Playing a furious game of catch-up, Borgsmiller and other growers are using a recent window of scorching, dry weather to try to turn around what has been a vexing planting season.

It’s too early to say how the slowed planting from eastern Missouri across Illinois and Indiana and into Ohio could affect yields at harvest this fall. But a shorter growing season could mean a smaller crop and higher prices that eventually trickle down to consumers.

The region accounts for somewhere between a quarter and a third of the country’s crop of corn, an ingredient in a vast number of foods. The grain also is used to feed the cattle, pigs and chickens that end up as packaged meat.

Iowa – the nation’s biggest corn producer – “had some pretty good (planting) conditions early and didn’t suffer from the wrath of Mother Nature that Illinois and Indiana did” this spring, said Brad Schwab, director of the Illinois field office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

If the weather cooperates in coming months, and there’s not a significant freeze in September, Schwab said, corn yields may be down only slightly.

The USDA reported Tuesday that as of the previous week, the crop was developing at a slower-than-normal pace across the Corn Belt because of the delayed planting. In Illinois and Iowa, for instance, almost all of the corn has emerged from the ground but stalks are shorter than normal for this time of year.

Still, the USDA reports, 70 percent of the crop was rated good to excellent, an 11 percentage point improvement over a year ago.

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