October 10, 2009 in Business

Big corn, soy crops expected

But farmers still struggling with low prices, high costs
Michael J. Crumb Associated Press
Associated Press photos photo

Doug Kleckner stands on his combine looking at an ear of corn on his farm near St. Ansgar, Iowa, on Sept. 15. Kleckner, like many farmers across the country, is getting ready to begin what experts predict could be a record harvest. Associated Press photos
(Full-size photo)

DES MOINES, Iowa – A record corn and soybean harvest will do little to help farmers already struggling with low prices and high production costs, a farm economist said Friday after the latest crop projections were released.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast is for the second-largest corn harvest on record and a new record for soybeans.

Neither comes as a surprise because more acres were planted this year and earlier forecasts also predicted a strong crop, said Lance Honig, chief of the crops branch for the Washington-based NASS, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Corn production is estimated at 13 billion bushels, up 8 percent from 2008. Gary Schnitkey, a farm economist at the University of Illinois, said record production usually results in lower prices farmers get for their crop.

“This year we’re actually looking at pretty low incomes for farmers, not only with the fall of commodity prices which began last year at this time, but at the same time the costs farmers have had to pay have been high, particularly fertilizer,” Schnitkey said.

But the prospect of lower corn prices shouldn’t send consumers scurrying to the store in hopes of getting a break on their box of corn flakes, Schnitkey said.

“For the consumer, it doesn’t mean a lot,” he said. “A lot of agricultural products, the amount in a certain product is very small.”

The beneficiaries of a giant crop are usually food processors and grain elevators “because they’re running more product through,” he said. He also said consumers overseas benefit because other countries can import U.S. grain for a lower price.

Yields – or amount harvested per acre – are forecast to average a record 164.2 bushels per acre this year, up more than 10 bushels from 2008.

Corn is grown in nearly every state but the top five producers are Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana.

A record 3.25 billion bushels is forecast for soybeans. Yields are expected to average 42.4 bushels an acre, the third-highest on record. The top corn states are also the biggest producers of soybeans.

Farmers say the challenge now is to bring the record crop in from fields drenched by rain, delaying the harvest.

“Usually by this time I’m about one-third done with beans and well into the corn,” said Don Kleckner, a farmer near St. Ansgar in northern Iowa. “I haven’t started beans or corn. I haven’t rolled a wheel.”

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