published Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Bounty of corn coming after 'excellent' season

A farmer drives his tractor past a soybean field toward grain storage bins near Ladora, Iowa. The nation’s corn and soybean farmers are on track to produce record crops this year as a mild summer has provided optimum growing conditions.
A farmer drives his tractor past a soybean field toward grain storage bins near Ladora, Iowa. The nation’s corn and soybean farmers are on track to produce record crops this year as a mild summer has provided optimum growing conditions.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A near-perfect growing season has American corn farmers on the threshold of a hearty harvest as the first corn of the year comes in.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has raised its forecast of corn production this year to a record 14 billion bushels, up from last year's record of 13.9 billion bushels.

A bigger crop was expected as adequate rain and cool temperatures made for favorable growing conditions in the 18 states that produce 91 percent of the nation's corn.

"This year, we're looking at having record yields through the U.S.," said Aaron Smith, assistant professor and crop marketing specialist at the University of Tennessee. "You almost couldn't ask for better production weather."

According to USDA data, U.S. farmers planted 91.6 million acres of corn at the onset of the growing season this year, which is down 4 percent from 2013. But favorable weather is helping boost crop yields.

According to USDA reports, 21 percent of the nation's corn crops are currently rated "excellent," compared to 18 percent at this point a year ago. In Tennessee, 54 percent of Tennessee's 880,000 planted acres of corn is "good," while 23 percent is "excellent" and 19 percent is "fair." The rest is either "poor" or "very poor."

Tom Capehart, a USDA economist, said on Wednesday that crops this year are in better shape than a year ago.

"There's a lot of very good corn out there," he said.

A healthy corn harvest may be a boon to the American food production industry, beleaguered recently by lower-than-average cattle and pork numbers, because of drought and disease, respectively.

Because corn supplies are up for the third year in a row and demand has stayed about the same, lower market prices have resulted, and that's helpful to meat producers who rely on corn and corn-based feeds.

With their overhead reduced, the savings -- on paper -- trickle down to the consumer.

"Theoretically, you should see a decrease in some of these corn products," said Smith.

But practically, he added, things probably won't actually change too much.

"You're not going to see a major impact at the consumer level at this time," he said.

Because by the time food reaches store shelves, the consumer is paying more for packaging, branding, marketing, transportation and store overhead than the time and resources used by farmers on the front end.

"But it's not going to hurt [store] prices either," said Capehart.

He and Smith agreed that farmers themselves will be feel the big harvest most -- in their own wallets.

With supply up, and demand staying the same, farmers stand to make less from their corn harvests this fall.

Knowing that, many corn producers are less likely to make big investments or equipment purchases this year. Some may even dedicate parts of their corn production infrastructure to other crops, which stand to net more profit, next season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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