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March 19, 2013

Corn crop: Back to normal?

If Mother Nature remains her finicky self, this year could be “lucky ’13” for corn farmers, a Purdue economist says.

Agricultural economist Christopher A. Hurt said a couple of weather scenarios could mean average or better-than-average prices for Indiana corn this year. If drought conditions across the U.S. improve, Hurt expects market prices for corn to level out this summer and start to go down as much as $2 a bushel. Otherwise, the scene may still be set for Indiana corn.

“The big uncertainty remains what the weather will be for the 2013 crop,” Hurt said. “There is a very large area of the western Corn Belt and Great Plains that still have very droughty soils.”

However, weather this year has developed more normally than it did last spring — with regular rainfall and chillier temperatures — keeping farmers from getting the early start to planting that they had last year.

“This is normal for Indiana,” Hurt said. “A year ago was not.”

And if weather stays normal, as is generally expected among local climatologists, “we’ll see a $2 or greater drop by the time we get to late summer and the fall.”

Another scenario — in which the eastern Corn Belt sees near-average crop yields, while the western half and the Great Plains stay stuck in drought — would give Indiana farmers “strong prices with normal yields,” Hurt said.

That has happened to the western Corn Belt, he said.

“They had reasonable yields with high prices. It could be that Indiana’s in that position this year.

“But Mother Nature will have the final say on that,” he added.

Southern Cass County farmer Kevin Wilson, who with his two brothers farms about 2,700 acres of corn, beans and tomatoes, said if yields do rise compared to last year, a drop in corn prices wouldn’t hurt his family’s farming.

“It depends on the bottom line,” Wilson said. “We can always take a little less price if we can get more bushels.”

Farmers in his area are banking on yields of about 130 to 150 bushels per acre, Wilson said — that’s near the 165-bushel-per-acre average Hurt said Indiana usually sees. If yields improve to 180 to 220 bushels per acre in the fertile cropland in the southern half of the county, Wilson said, “at the end of the day [a price drop] may not be all that bad.”

Prices for the 2012 crop are averaging $7.10 per bushel now, Hurt said. In 2010, the average per-bushel price tag came in at $5.38 in Indiana according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture annual crop values summary.

Since demand for corn has tapered off somewhat because of the current high prices, Wilson figures that any falling prices should bring demand back up.

“The weather will be key. There’s no question about it,” Wilson said. “But I think most of the farmers are pretty well optimistic. We’ve had some opportunities to lock in some relatively decent prices and if we get a pretty good yield, we’ll be in decent shape.”

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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