CHICAGO (Reuters) — Corn yields are down sharply in Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee from a year ago as hot, dry weather stressed the plants during pollination, crop specialists and grain merchants said on Wednesday as the southern U.S. harvest gained steam.
Although these are early indications of the harvest, they are raising concerns among food processors, livestock producers, and biofuel makers since a bumper crop is needed to replenish stocks, which the U.S. Agriculture Department forecast to be the lowest in 16 years next summer.
While the states in the mid-South and Mississippi River Delta produce only a small fraction of the U.S. corn crop they provide an early influx of supplies into market channels before harvest begins in the top growing area of the U.S. Midwest.
“Corn has struggled this year from extensive drought — it really set the corn back. Some of it is almost not worth harvesting,” said John Kruse, extension corn specialist at Louisiana State University.
This year’s U.S. corn crop is expected to be the third largest ever but nearly all of it is likely to be consumed by livestock or to make the ethanol.
Participants on a crop tour this week in central Illinois predicted lower corn yields there, setting the stage for a possible scramble in the cash grain markets when harvest starts in the Midwest as early as the first week of September.
“Every elevator and processor is going to be coming into this harvest as empty as they’ve been in years, and there are going to be a lot of holes to fill up,” said Derrick Bruhn, merchandising manager at Top Flight Grain, which held this week’s crop tour through five counties in central Illinois.
“This area had very little rain in July. The heat definitely had a huge impact,” Bruhn said, adding that many corn ears had “tip back” — which is when grain kernels do not form on the top of the ear.
LOWEST TOUR YIELD IN SIX YEARS
Participants on the one-day Illinois tour projected yields for the region at 148 bushels per acre, down from 173 last year and the lowest tour average since 2005’s 144. The farmer cooperative has held the tour since the mid-1980s, Bruhn said.
USDA last week forecast the Illinois corn yield at 170 bushels per acre and the U.S. yield at 153. The top two corn growing states, Iowa and Illinois, produce about 35 percent of the crop while Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee combined produce roughly 2 percent of the crop.
The southern states experienced many of the same conditions as the Midwest — near-record hot temperatures during corn’s pollination phase. Western Louisiana also is suffering from a severe drought like its neighbor, Texas.
Kruse said about 80 percent of the corn crop has been harvested in Louisiana, with yields likely to decline 8-10 bushels per acre across the state. USDA pegged the state’s yield at 130 bpa, down from 140 bpa last year.
One farmer abandoned his corn field in the western part of the state while other farmers are installing irrigation systems or may next year switch to the more drought tolerant crop of sorghum, Kruse said.
In western Arkansas, harvest is progressing and dryland corn yields are down markedly, with early results coming in well below the government projection of 150 bpa, said Diana Klemme, a broker at the Atlanta brokerage Grain Service Corp.
Incidents of charcoal rot were spotted in some fields in Tennessee near the Mississippi River, said Bob Williams, an extension crop specialist at the University of Tennessee. The fungus can be caused by high soil temperatures and low moisture levels.
Posted by Haylie Shipp