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Corn crop second largest in history despite adverse year

By Jennifer Bremer

Despite an adverse growing year for farmers in the Midwest, the U.S. corn crop was still the second largest in history, according to the recently released USDA crop report.

"We had a long planting season and a late harvest, but yields were still good," said Darrel McAlexander, chairman of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. "It shows just how far we have gone in technological advancements with hybrids."

Nationwide, corn production came in at 12.1 billion bushels, with yields at 153.9 bushels per acre. The 2008 yield is the second highest on record, behind 2004, and production is second largest, behind 2007.

Iowa corn numbers came in at 2.189 billion bushels, with yields at 171 bushels per acre, which was exactly the same yield as 2007. Fewer acres were planted to corn, but it was still the fourth largest crop in history.

News of the report caused corn prices to go down the limit of 30 cents, which concerned farmers like Tim Burrack, chair-elect of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. "Economically we are going to have a more difficult year in 2009 because of the drop in corn prices and high input costs. Profitability will be critical," he said.

Burrack said some farmers were fortunate if they captured good contract prices in 2008; but, unfortunately, he thinks 2009 might be a bit of a struggle.

Input costs

High input costs continue to concern farmers. McAlexander said the biggest concern for corn farmers right now is the price of fertilizer. While some say the price will be going down, the problem continues to lie with high leftover inventories.

"We have to look at the bottom line. If we can raise more per acre and justify the high fertilizer prices, then we will; otherwise, we could see an increase in soybean acreage," he said.

Burrack agreed, "A lot of farmers are at a wait-and-see mode with acres that can float either way. I probably won't make my final decisions on planting until March."

Soybean numbers

Soybean production for 2008 was estimated at 2.96 billion bushels with average nationwide yields estimated at 39.6 bushels per acre. This total is up 11 percent from 2007, with U.S. production being the fourth largest on record.

For Iowa, soybean production for 2008 was 444.8 million bushels, down 1 percent from 2007. The average yield per acre was 46 bushels, down 6 bushels from the 2007 average of 52 bushels per acre. The total harvested area was 9.67 million acres, up 12 percent from 2007.

John Heisdorffer, a soybean grower from Keota and president of the Iowa Soybean Association, said, "Overall, this final report isn't surprising after a year when the estimates have shifted from one report to the next," he said. "It may surprise some farmers, based on their location. However, we've consistently heard from producers in Iowa and across the country that their beans were 'better than expected.'"

Burrack said a lot of wet spots in his area in northeast Iowa were planted to soybeans, just as they were all across the state, which led to a variance in yields in bushels from the low 30s to the upper 50s per acre.

Heisdorffer said export demands help keep a strong demand market for U.S. soybeans around the world.

"Exports are strong with our biggest foreign customer, China, continuing to place large orders. Drought concerns in South America are also causing global supply concerns. Meanwhile, soybean farmers are keenly aware that our largest customers, the hog and chicken industries, need a dependable supply of reasonably priced soybeans. And the reduction in bean prices has helped make soybean oil a player again in biodiesel. Ultimately, we believe all of these factors make it possible for this to be a positive year for Iowa soybean producers," he said.

Agriculture in the economy

Shifts continue to take place for farmers across the nation. Burrack said he doesn't think the agriculture economy is insulated from the rest of the economy anymore.

"Corn exports are predicted to be down for the coming year, as well as corn use for ethanol and feed," he said. "With reduced usage and a bigger carryover, who knows what will happen to prices."

McAlexander said, "We need a fair price for oil in order for our ethanol industry to succeed now and in the future."

Jennifer Bremer can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120 or by e-mail at jbremermaj@hotmail.com.

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Date: 1/15/09

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