DES MOINES, Iowa — The U.S. Department of Agriculture slightly lowered its estimate of the corn crop on Thursday, a reflection of late planting in the Corn Belt due to the wet spring.
Farmers are now expected to harvest about 13.95 billion bushels, 55 million fewer bushels than predicted in June. That still beats the 2009 record by about 858 million bushels. A bushel of corn, when on the ears, weighs about 70 pounds.
The USDA also said farmers are now expected to harvest about 89.1 million acres of corn, down from the 89.5 million acres expected a month ago.
For many farmers in Iowa and surrounding states, the rainy spring left fields soggy for weeks, causing them to delay planting weeks later than normal and, in some cases, re-plant because seeds had rotted.
"We're probably sitting on some of the worst crops in the country," said Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University. "We have drowned out spots and we have holes in our fields we don't like to see there. But when you look at the corn that did take off and start to grow, it's looking a lot better now than it did two or three weeks ago."
Hart said the corn that was most affected by all the rain stretches along Interstate 35 from Minnesota through Iowa and Missouri and over into Kansas and Colorado.
That would include Chris Edgington's farm, which he operates with his son, his father and a brother in north central Iowa near St. Ansgar.
This is the first year in more than 60 that an entire crop couldn't be planted on the family's 2,000 acres, he said. Just a third of the normal corn crop was planted this year and they took crop insurance payments for the remaining two-thirds.
"Not only is it a financial decision you have to make but it's an emotional one as well," Edgington said. "We are definitely as a group geared to put something in the ground and harvest it. This is a challenge to a lot of farmers to not have a crop out there."
Farther east, in states that were hit hard by last year's drought, some cornfields looked great while others had fallen prey to numerous storm systems and heavy rain.
Darrel Good, agricultural economics professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the state's corn was mostly shaping up well.
"In the northern two-thirds of the state, we have crops that in really very good shape," he said. "Here in the east-central part of the state I would say it's the best looking crops that I can recall."
Producing an expected record crop in a year that started poorly for many is largely possible because of the number of acres planted in corn, Hart said.
Farmers planted 97.4 million acres in corn this year, the USDA said. Just four years ago it was about 87 million acres. That combined with corn plants that better withstand heat, drought and other stresses results in bigger harvests under less than optimal conditions, Hart said.
Corn prices will likely stay high because of a dwindling supply this summer due to last year's drought, which produced just 11 billion bushels, and a late harvest this fall. Higher prices are good for farmers selling grain, but they increase the cost of feed for livestock producers using corn-based feed for cattle, chickens and pigs.
Food prices aren't likely to be affected much by the change.
Farmers also are expected to produce a record soybean crop if the latest USDA estimates hold true. Thursday's report shows an expected harvest of 3.4 billion bushels, better than the 3.36 billion bushels produced in 2009.