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The United States Department of Agriculture announced its 2002 estimates for corn and soybean production September 12. They made a slight cut in corn production and gave soybeans a slight boost compared to the August production reports.

The U.S. corn crop is pegged at 8.85 billion bushels or 125 bushels to the acre. If this holds true, it would be the smallest corn crop since 1995. The summary for corn can be broken down by region. The northern cornbelt (Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin) had excellent production as moisture fell throughout the 2002 growing season. The eastern cornbelt (Ohio, Indiana, and southern Illinois) was dry and will fall below average production. In the western states—such as Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska—there was extreme drought. By September, much of the corn in these western states was already harvested—if it was even worthwhile to harvest.

Peoria County corn will fare better than anticipated in mid July. We received some welcome showers the last weekend of July, which was accompanied by rainfall through the month of August. By September, the corn was mature and yields were set. Farmers just had to wait for Mother Nature to dry it down.

The corn market really perked up the last two months due to the dry weather and forecasted smaller yields. This spring and early summer, corn prices hovered around the $2 mark but have since moved up a good 50 cents per bushel. This is how the free market system is supposed to work—as supply falls, prices increase. Some farmers in the Midwest will have a good financial year as they will harvest decent yields and can market their crops at a respectable price. Others, who witnessed sunny skies most of the summer, won’t have the crop yields to benefit from the higher prices.

On the soybean side, the USDA forecast a 2.66 billion bushel crop. This ends a streak of record setting yields for soybeans. The average harvest will be 37 bushels per acre. The late August rains actually benefited the soybeans more than corn. During a normal year, corn demands rain in July, and soybeans require moisture in August. However, the window of opportunity is much wider for soybeans, which pollinate over a 30- to 40-day period, as opposed to corn, which only has a 10-day timeframe.

Soybeans are unusually late this year. The reason can be traced back to last spring; rain fell in May and kept farmers from getting the soybean crop planted in a timely fashion. Mid-September found most of the soybean plants still green and a few weeks away from harvest.

We began September on the dry side, and continued dryness will cut yields in a number of ways for soybeans. First, the soybean will abort pods on the stem of the plant (30 pods per plant cut to 20 pods per plant); second, it will abort beans in a pod (the normal three beans per pod will be cut to one or two beans per pod); and finally, if the number of beans have been established, continued dryness would cause them to be small (BB-sized instead of pea-sized beans).

Prices for soybeans have increased, but not as much as corn. We can suspect the reason to be because the U.S. doesn’t dominate world soybean production anymore. For the first time in history, South America (Brazil and Argentina) will produce more soybeans than the U.S. Brazil has vast amounts of land being converted to cropland, and it’s expected they will continue to add soybean acres at a 10 to 15 percent clip each year over the next decade.

Price wise, 2002 looks to finish up on a very positive side. Let’s hope Peoria County farmers will be able to benefit by harvesting good yields. Every extra bushel they harvest will likely be pumped right back into our local economy. IBI

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