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2021 USDA Yield Debate: Are Corn Yields Growing in The West, Waning in The East?

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Price pressure plagued certain commodities this week. While cotton prices continue to climb, supply and demand concerns weighed on corn and soybeans.

During the 2021 U.S. Farm Report/Golden Harvest College Roadshow from the University of Illinois this week, the debate continued on just how big of a U.S. corn crop is being harvested right now.

“I think relatively speaking, Illinois might not achieve that 214 [bu. per acre] that we originally forecasted here last month,” says Matt Bennett of AgMarket.Net. “214 was an awful lofty goal. 210 was the old high, I'm not so sure that we are going to go over that. I'm not sure we're going to be under it, as well.”

Bennett says the issue in Illinois this year is variability. While the crop showed a lot of a potential to produce a record this year, late season disease pressure from things like Tar Spot took a toll on yields in some areas.

“I think the thing about the corn crop here in Illinois is that there's a lot of variability,” says Bennett. “There's folks that are going to tell you, ‘Hey, this is the best corn crop I've ever had, no question about it.’  But there are also going to be several folks, especially when you get into the northwestern quadrant of the state and the western part of the state, where they're going to come in significantly below what they were expecting. So, I think there's going to be some disappointment there, as well. It's probably going to end up averaging out to something a little bit lower than what the USDA is currently forecasting.”

While the Eastern Corn Belt may be seeing yields under what some farmers anticipated heading into harvest, in portions of the Western Corn Belt, the yield surprise is happening on the opposite end of the spectrum.

“The anecdotal reports that I'm hearing in my home state of Iowa, in particular, my family farms out there, and our early yield reports are quite good and better than what the USDA had in their August and September reports,” says Scott Irwin, University of Illinois economist. “So, I think that the Western Corn Belt is likely to probably offset any declines in the eastern Corn Belt.”

Whether the West offsets the East is still up for debate, as is the overall demand picture. Joe Janzen, who’s also an economist with the University of Illinois, says he has serious concerns about the demand pace for crops like corn.

“In the month of September, which is sort of time to really make hay in terms of export sales, that month was slow,” he adds. “Some of that had to due with the issues in the Gulf where we saw the slowness of movement, but in terms of just making export sales, we saw really a slowdown in pace. And that means we've got to kind of pick that up somewhere else later on in the marketing year.”

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