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USDA: Corn conditions down from a year ago

Agriculture.com Staff 06/02/2008 @ 2:47pm

This year's corn crop was (and is, depending on your location) slow getting into the ground, and conditions are far from the best for emergence and early growth. But USDA numbers on Monday show that it might not be time to throw in the towel on the '08 corn crop just yet.

In the agency's weekly Crop Progress report on Monday, USDA officials offered the season's first stab at corn conditions. The verdict: 63% of the crop is in good-to-excellent shape, while 30% is rated in fair condition. That's compared to 78% and 18% a year ago, respectively.

While corn planting appears to finally be wrapping up (95% as of Sunday), the crop's emergence -- like soybean planting -- is still lagging well off the typical pace.

As of Sunday, 69% of the nation's soybeans were planted, compared to 86% a year ago and the previous five-year average of 81%. Of those beans in the ground, 32% are emerging, half of the 64% emergence seen one year ago and down from the 55% average pace.

Corn emergence remains off pace, losing slight ground in the last week. As of Sunday, 74% of the corn crop has emerged, 15% off the 89% previous five-year average. Though it made big strides in the last week, emergence remains off pace by double digits in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In the latter state, farmers saw an emergence improvement of 33% over the previous week, but remain 32% behind where emergence sat one year ago.

Though emergence numbers are still on the lower side, this doesn't mean this year's crops are duds quite yet. But, reaching trendline yields may be a heavy lift, given how the year's corn and soybean crops have come out of the starting gate.

"Odds say the way we started this year, it is a ways below trend," says southern Minnesota farmer John Pfaffinger. "We can have perfect weather, terrible weather or average weather from here on out. Average from here on out and we will end less then trend and not have enough to cover the demand that has been cut drastically already outside ethanol."

But, a lot can happen between now and harvest-time, and history shows slow planting and emergence doesn't always doom yields to below trend. Such was the case in Iowa in 2004, according to Ray Jenkins, Cargill senior grain merchandiser in Eddyville, Iowa. After a spring like this year's, the state saw a 181-bushel-per-acre average yield.

"I think most of us could look at that...and think 'No way Iowa could grow 160-bushel corn, let alone 181-bushel where it actually came in,'" Jenkins says. "Do I think Iowa is on track to repeat that big yield? No, But, the whole point...is to understand that that the U.S. corn crop can still be many things in relation to the trendline yield."

There's one difference between 2004 and this year, says Agriculture Online Marketing Talk member Dickie, Jr. Planting was taken care of earlier that year, making it easier for the crop to bounce back from poorer conditions earlier in the season. With slower planting and emergence this year, a repeat may not be in the cards.

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