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USDA predicts corn harvest at four-year low

Weather for spring planting improves, but too late

Farmer Brent Renner of Klemme boards the field sprayer he uses to prep the soil as planting season is underway. He grows both corn and soybeans on his farm. (Lisa Grouette/Mason City Globe Gazette)
Farmer Brent Renner of Klemme boards the field sprayer he uses to prep the soil as planting season is underway. He grows both corn and soybeans on his farm. (Lisa Grouette/Mason City Globe Gazette)

The government slashed its estimate of this year’s domestic corn production to be the lowest in four years, saying Tuesday that heavy rain in key growing areas this spring forced growers to cut their acreage and caused planting delays that threatened the size of the harvest.

“Unprecedented planting delays observed through early June are expected to prevent some plantings and reduce yield prospects,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report.

The corn troubles are the latest blow to farmers struggling with lost markets and trade wars. The corn harvest will dip to a four-year low of 13.680 billion bushels, based on an average yield of 166.0 bushels per acre, the report said.

“The USDA ripped the Band-Aid off by lowering yield by 10 bushels (per acre) and then also lowering acreage as well,” said Ted Seifried, chief agriculture market strategist at Zaner Group. “The USDA is verifying a lot of our fears.”

The predicted reduced harvest will cut 2019-20 corn ending stocks to 1.675 billion bushels, down 23.7 percent from a year earlier and their lowest since the 2013-14 marketing year.

But the USDA left its 2019-20 supply projections for soybeans unchanged, at 4.150 billion bushels for harvest and 49.5 bushels per acre for yield.

The USDA’s Iowa Crop & Condition weekly report said farmers in the state finally had enough decent weather for work in the fields — but nonetheless were forced behind the usual schedule.

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“Iowa farmers finally got the drier weather they were looking for with 5.2 days suitable for fieldwork statewide for the first full week in June,” said the latest report released Monday. “This is the first time this season farmers had more than 5.0 days suitable for field work. This allowed farmers to plant corn and soybeans, cut hay, and spray fields with nitrogen.”

With that, 93 percent of the expected Iowa corn crop has been planted — but that’s more than two weeks behind last year and nearly three weeks behind the five-year average, the report said. Seventy-three percent of the crop has emerged, but that’s running two weeks behind last year.

Nearly a third of the expected soybean crop was planted in that week as well. Iowa farmers now have 70 percent of the expected soybean crop planted, but that’s 17 days behind last year and the five-year average. Thirty-five percent of the crop has emerged, more than two weeks later than last year, the report found.

“Iowa finally received a much-needed stretch of dryness and warmth as a large-scale circulation shift brought a much less active pattern across the region,” said state climatologist Justin Glisan of the first week of June. “Given the remarkable stretch of wetness during spring, the current dry period is a welcome break. Temperatures were unseasonably warm, generally 3 to 6 degrees above average.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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