What a difference a year makes for agriculture

One short year ago, we had corn in the ground by today and planters were rolling, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Then we had a freeze on April 11 that nipped emerged corn and everything else, including developing plants, fruit and blossoms. So corn, apples, peaches, grapes, strawberries and tomatoes were damaged or lost.

When I chatted with a grower in late April, it was already a "year to forget," and that was before things got even worse.

The impact of the drought and heat really came home when the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service released the area county yields for 2012. Corn took the major hit while soybeans were rescued by the Labor Day rains from Hurricane Isaac remnants.

Corn yields in bushels per acre for Champaign and area counties were:

County  Expected Yield  Final 2012 Yield
Champaign  177.4 108.9
Vermilion  171.7 100.1
Edgar  167.2 96.7
Douglas  173.4 99.4
Piatt  180.5 130.8
McLean  183.3 109.5
Ford  173.6 63.9
Iroquois  175.2 105.7

So, what's in store for 2013? Last month, USDA chief economist Joe Glauber looked into his crystal ball at the USDA Outlook Forum. He predicted that commodity prices will fall "significantly" in 2013 due to increased yields and acreage.

Corn acreage is projected at 96.5 million. Assuming normal weather, trend yields are projected at 163.6 bushels per acre for a production of 14.53 billion bushels. Carryout will be 2.177 billion bushels with an average corn price down 33 percent from 2012 to $4.80.

Soybean acreage for 2013 is pegged at 77.5 million, equal to the 2009 record. Trend yield is predicted at 44.5 bushels per acre for a production of 3.405 billion bushels. Carryout will be 250 million bushels with the average price down 27 percent to $10.50.

The Climate Prediction Center delivered a weather outlook to the forum. There is no specific weather pattern associated with either El Nino or La Nina. Also, no warming or cooling of Pacific sea surface temperatures is expected. So scientists look for a 58 to 79 percent chance of "neutral " conditions from March to August. Their central Corn Belt forecast for March to May was for slightly above-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation. For June to August, the forecast is for slightly-above normal temperatures with no distinct precipitation trend.

What's the latest information from the drought monitor for Illinois? The March 5 drought monitor has 65 percent of Illinois with no drought (including central Illinois); 19 percent of northwestern Illinois is abnormally dry while 16 percent of extreme northwestern Illinois is in moderate drought.

So what's in store for 2013? No one knows, so remain flexible and stay tuned!

Steve Ayers is educator for local food systems and small farms at the University of Illinois Extension, Champaign/Ford/Iroquois/Vermilion unit. Send mail to 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Suite D, Champaign, IL 61821; call 333-7672; send a fax to 333-7683; or email srayers@uiuc.edu.

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