WASHINGTON – Farmers in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest are expected to harvest plentiful corn and soybean crops this fall, the government said Wednesday, potentially hurting some cash-strapped farmers already struggling with low commodity prices.
The Agriculture Department said growers are forecast to harvest 13.69 billion bushels of corn this year, an increase of 156 million bushels from the government’s July estimate, and the third largest crop on record. The expected soybean output was increased 31 million bushels to 3.92 billion bushels, second only in size to last year’s record.
Both corn and soybean production figures surprised analysts who were expecting USDA to ratchet down its forecasts to reflect heavy rains that prevented plantings in some areas of the eastern Corn Belt and curtailed yields in others.
The prospect of more corn and soybeans in the market sent corn and soybean prices sharply lower Wednesday, potentially making it harder for producers looking for a rebound in prices high enough to ensure they post a profit in 2015.
“There was some big profitability in agriculture, and now it’s going to be more of a belt-tightening. The big cushions are no longer there,” said Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines. “If we stay at these price levels, everybody is going to be more cautious on what they spend and what their input costs are.”
Roose said farmers who haven’t overextended themselves are more likely to emerge in good shape, but others who were too aggressive could see a bigger hit. He said depressed commodity prices could pressure farmers to negotiate lower rent costs into next year, and would push fertilizer and other inputs lower.
Earlier this year, USDA projected that net farm income would tumble 32 percent, to $73.6 billion, in 2015. Earnings would be the lowest since 2009 and down almost 43 percent from the record high of $129 billion just two years ago.
Iowa, the country’s top corn producer, is expected to turn out a record 2.43 billion bushels of the grain found in everything from food to animal feed and ethanol, the USDA said. Soybeans are forecast at 515.8 million bushels, the second most ever. Iowa is the nation’s No. 2 producer of the oilseed.
The wet weather has been especially damaging to corn and soybeans throughout parts of the Corn Belt, including Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, while crops further west and north of the Mississippi River have fared far better.
Favorable weather in Minnesota and parts of the Dakotas has helped offset moist conditions elsewhere and contributed toward plentiful crops that have suppressed commodity prices — often below the cost of production for some producers.
In Iowa, the impact of the rains has been spotty.
Ray Gaesser, a corn and soybean producer from Corning, said his 6,000 acres have been inundated by rain since May. He estimated it rained on his farm 52 of 92 days during May, June and July, a month when he collected 12 inches of moisture alone — about three times the average.
The deluge has led to more diseases than normal in his corn, and an earlier and wider prevalence of problems in his soybeans. Gaesser said corn yields are expected to be about close to his average of 187 bushels per acre, but some of his soybeans are at risk of dropping below his normal harvest of 58.5 bushels per acre.
“The conditions are just right for pests and just wrong for the plant,” Gaesser said. “Normally you like to have rain this time of the year, but we’re extremely, extremely wet here.”
But Kevin Scott of Valley Springs, S.D., who grows about 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans, said his fields in the far eastern part of the state have received periods of heavy rains, too. He remains in pretty good shape, in large part because of their ability to hold moisture.
“We aren’t harvesting yet. Mother Nature is still in change, but we have good potential right now,” said Scott, who predicted his corn and soybeans could top 200 bushels and 60 bushels an acre, respectively. “We’re pretty thrilled with the way ours looks.”
Futures prices plunged following the USDA report. Corn for September delivery on the Chicago Board of Trade fell 18 cents, to $3.58 a bushel, in trading Wednesday. Soybeans dropped 59 cents, to $9.21 a bushel, also for September delivery.