WASHINGTON – U.S. farmers will reap a record high 10.635 billion bushels of corn, a record 2.94 billion bushels of soybeans, and 18 million bales of cotton this fall, but wheat output will slump, the government projected on Monday.
The U.S. Agriculture Department (search) estimated the winter wheat crop, now being harvested, would total 1.47 billion bushels (40 million tons), 4 percent less than estimated a month ago, due to lower yields in many of the Plains states growing hard red winter wheat. Harvest of durum and other spring wheat was also forecast to fall short of last year.
Overall, the U.S. wheat crop, projected at 2.059 billion bushels (56 million tons), would be 12 percent smaller than 2003.
USDA's corn figure (270 million tons) was based on the largest corn plantings since 1985 and prospects for record yields. Despite nearly ideal growing conditions in recent weeks, many private analysts think the crop will be slightly smaller, around 10.5 billion bushels, due to cool weather and rain that delayed planting in the northern Corn Belt (search).
A large corn crop would inflate the corn stockpile and pull down prices, while hearty domestic and foreign appetites for soybeans would leave only a moderate 210 million bushels (5.7 million tons) in the U.S. stockpile despite a record harvest (80 million tons). There will be a scant 105 million bushels (2.87 million tons) of soybeans on hand when harvest starts this fall, the smallest carry-over in 28 years.
"The most important thing, of course, is the crops coming on. They're in quite good shape," said private consultant John Schnittker. But, he added, harvest is two months away or more.
USDA boosted its projection for the cotton crop by 2.3 percent from last month, to 18.0 million bales weighing 480 lbs. each, because favorable growing weather meant less land would be abandoned as not worth harvesting, particularly in the arid Southwest.
The current corn crop record is 10.114 billion bushels (257 million tons) harvested last year. The soybean record is 2.89 billion bushels (78.7 million tons) grown in 2001.
Winter wheat yields were forecast to average 42.2 bushels an acre, down 1.4 bushels from last month's forecast. The durum wheat crop was estimated for 88.6 million bushels (2.4 million tons), down 8 percent from 2003, and other spring wheat at 501 million bushels (13.6 million tons), would be down 6 percent. Yields are down and farmers planted less wheat, USDA said.
Farmers were estimated to harvest 263.5 million bushels (5.7 million tons) of barley and 121.85 million bushels (1.77 million tons) of oats, both down from 2003.
Rice growers would harvest a record 223 million hundredweight (7.08 million tons) of rice, 12 percent more than last year, USDA projected.
Crop estimates are based on surveys of growers and inspections of fields. Projections assume normal weather and yields and farmers' reports of plantings.