USDA predicts record corn production

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, May 11, 2012

Corn farmers will produce a record 14.79 billion bushels in the 2012-2013 season, the Agriculture Department predicted today in its first forecasts for the coming year’s crop production.

The amount is 11 percent higher than the previous record of 13.09 billion bushels in 2009, and 65 percent higher than what corn farmers were producing a decade ago. The prediction by USDA drew cheers from the ethanol industry, which said it showed that the department was confident in the ability of corn farmers to provide enough corn for both food and renewable fuel.

“It is clear that farmers will continue to meet the bell and provide safe, reliable food and clean, domestic fuel,” said Geoff Cooper, Renewable Fuels Association vice president of research and analysis. And the USDA estimate should “silence those Chicken Littles that perpetually predict a shortage of corn and catastrophe in the grocery aisle.”

Despite the increase, USDA predicts corn for ethanol production to be unchanged from the current year because weak gasoline consumption is limiting opportunities to blend ethanol into fuel. It will remain at 5 billion bushels for the year running from Sept. 1, 2012. to Aug. 31, 2013.

Total corn use, though, is forecast to rise by 9 percent partly due to an increased use of corn for livestock feed, sweeteners and starch, and larger exports.

USDA predicts total planted acres in the United States to be 95.9 million, up from 91.9 million estimated for the current season.

Already, farmers across most major corn-producing areas are planting more rapidly than the five-year average, according to a USDA report released Monday. Seventy-one percent of the domestic crop has already been planted.

“What growers optimistically viewed as a potentially optimal planting season has become a reality in many areas,” said National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer in a statement. “With nearly three-quarters of the nation’s corn acres already in the ground, farmers have reason to look toward the 2012 harvest with greater hopes than in recent years.”

Global corn production is also expected to be at record levels. USDA, though, noted that its predictions were still tentative.

The environmental community blasted the forecasts, saying they pointed to an increase in the use of harmful technologies to eke as much production as possible out of acres.

“We need diversified, small-scale, sustainable agriculture to ensure the health of our economy and land — not more industrial and mechanized monocropping of corn,” said Michal Rosenoer, biofuels policy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “The ethanol industry shouldn’t be bragging about higher yields — they should be apologizing for exacerbating climate change and incentivizing the industrial takeover of America’s small and medium-size farmers.”