Early and generous corn planting may be bin buster

This could be the mother of all corn crops — or not. That’s how the 2012 planting looks to experts around the nation because farmers are planting more acres of corn in 2012 than they have in any year since the late 1930s, according to a report on National Public Radio (NPR), May 3.

NPR said thanks to a mild spring (some might say summer-like spring), planting has moved along briskly in the Upper Midwest. Bill Couser, a crop farmer near Nevada, Iowa, told reporter Sarah McCammon, “This corn crop will knock your socks off, if all the stars line up and the good Lord gives us that blessing.”

Couser told NPR that after decades of farming, though, he knows better than to get too excited this early. As any farmer knows, any number of things could befall this early and generous crop — droughts, floods, attacks from pests, and disease. Even the best corn crops face these real possibilities sometime during the growing season.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) likes the early planting. Paul Bertels, a NCGA economist told NPR, “The sooner you get the crop in — provided you don’t have a cold snap — you’ll actually get that plant through pollination before the real heat of the summer.”

The NPR report said corn farmers are planting at almost twice the rate of a typical year. By May 3, nearly half of this year’s crop is in the ground. But early planting is only part of the picture this year. Farmers are expected to plant nearly 96 million acres in 2012, some 3.9 million more than last year, and 10 million more than 2009. That was the year that yielded the largest corn harvest ever.

In fact, said NPR’s McCammon, if farmers follow through on their planting plans, the nation could see the most acres planted in corn since 1937. Add that to the fact that we have better seeds and improved farming methods, and it should produce yields that will be much higher than those in 1937.

Farmer Couser is optimistic about the huge crop, but he also worries about the downside. Such a crop could suppress market prices even though the cost of inputs remains high and steady. “Farmers are their (own) worst enemies,” he told NPR, “because we always do what we do best, and that’s overproduce. If we have more corn than we can use in ethanol, what will we do with that corn?”

Couser worries that ethanol won’t produce the demand it once did and that livestock numbers are down, but NPR quoted Chad Hart of Iowa State University Extension as saying he is not overly concerned about prices. He predicts a banner crop would push prices down a dollar or so below current prices (more than $6 per bushel), but they would still be better than the $2-$3 farmers had been used to receiving.

Hart also expects that ethanol demand will remain high, coupled with export demands from the Pacific Rim countries.

If those prices remain pretty healthy and Mother Nature cooperates, this huge planted crop could turn into a huge harvested crop — and farmers could be grinning all the way to the bank.

I’ll see ya.