Iowa's corn growers dealt with many challenges this past year but managed to produce the third largest Iowa corn crop in history, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's final crop production report released January 12.
Total U.S. corn production was 12.1 billion bushels in 2008, the second largest crop in history. Iowa retained its position as the top corn-producing state with a 2.189 billion bushel crop. The average yield for Iowa was 171 bushels per acre, the same yield as in 2007.
"We had an unusual season with adverse weather conditions throughout the year," says Darrel McAlexander, chair of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) who farms at Sydney in southwest Iowa. "To produce the second largest U.S. corn crop and the fourth largest Iowa corn crop reflects on the value of the new traits and hybrids available to farmers."
Calculate crop input costs carefully for 2009
McAlexander started planting corn April 12 but had many rain delays and wasn't able to finish planting until May 10. He experienced excessive rains throughout the spring until July. Rain also delayed harvest, which he did not start until Oct. 2.
Tim Burrack, chair-elect of the ICPB and a corn grower from Arlington, and Dean Taylor, Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) director from Prairie City in central Iowa, say that farmers across the state had challenges but yields turned out better than expected despite the late planting and late harvest.
Looking toward 2009, all three growers say volatile corn markets and input costs will challenge growers before they start the growing season. Each said he is working extensively to calculate input costs and break-even costs to manage their operations. "The ag economy is tied to the broader economy," Taylor notes. "The economic slowdown is affecting our markets and that affects farmers' incomes. There's just more of a delayed reaction before we see the results."
Iowa grew third largest corn crop in 2008
When flooding damaged much of Iowa's corn and soybean crops last spring and early summer, predictions abounded that the state's yields would be down considerably. Those predictions drove corn to a record $8 per bushel and soybeans to $16 per bushel by early July.
Many fields were flooded out and lost, especially in areas of east-central and southeast Iowa. However, crops in most of the rest of the state recovered from the soggy start. The improvement in crop yield prospects caused corn and bean prices to begin a steep drop. Corn fell to $5.50 by September 1 and to less than $3 a bushel by early December. It rose to $4.26 by the first week of January.
Soybeans fell to $10.50 per bushel by Labor Day and then below $8 per bushel by early December before rallying to $10 per bushel by the end of 2008.
Soybeans were more affected by flooding
Soybeans, which are planted later than corn, were more affected by flooding and saw their average Iowa yield drop from 52 bushels per acre in 2007 to 46 bushels per acre in 2008.
Nationally, corn yields averaged 154 bushels per acre and soybeans 40 bushels per acre in 2008. The U.S. corn crop for 2008 came in at 12.1 billion bushels, down 7% from a year earlier on about 6 million fewer acres than were planted for corn in 2007. National soybean production totaled 2.96 billion bushels in 2008, up 11% from 2007 on about 11 million more acres.
Compared with 2007, Iowa's 2008 corn crop was down 7.9% while the state's 2008 soybean crop was up 1.4% from the amount produced in 2007.
Soybean outlook stronger than corn for 2009
USDA's annual crop report summary is issued every January for the previous year. Last week's report which has the final acreage and yield estimates for 2008 comes at a time when farmers are assessing current market conditions and are planning spring plantings. The consensus holds a brighter price outlook for soybeans than for corn, in part because the Chinese continue to be buyers of soybeans and because of drought concerns in South America.
"While the production figures in the January 12 crop summary are higher than previously estimated (for both corn and soybeans) we're experiencing a stronger- than-expected market demand—more so for soybeans," says John Heisdorffer of Keota, president of the Iowa Soybean Association.
Early forecasts for plantings have indicated that farmers may plant up to 10% fewer acres for corn than last year. Besides lower corn prices, the higher costs of nitrogen fertilizer than corn requires, and soybeans don't require, will be a factor. "I'm paying double for nitrogen fertilizer now compared to a year ago," says Dean Taylor, who farms near Prairie City.
The largest corn crop ever for Iowa was in 2007, with 2.368 billion bushels produced. The second largest corn crop for Iowa was in 2004, with 2.244 billion bushels harvested. Iowa's third largest crop was in 2008 at 2.189 billion bushels and the state's fourth largest crop was in 2005 at 2.163 billion bushels.