NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana's large corn crop is looking good as the harvest begins, thanks to well-timed rain and a reasonably early planting. The state could have a second record yield in a row, an expert said.
About 10 to 15 percent of Louisiana's corn had been harvested by Thursday, and the harvest should peak in the coming week, said Louisiana State University AgCenter corn specialist Ronnie Levy.
Last year's crop had a record yield of 168 bushels per acre. Levy said early reports range from 175 to 250 bushels per acre.
And, he said, "Most producers think some of their better crop is still to come in."
At a guess, he said, the final figure might be 180 bushels per acre — maybe even as high as 185.
In Mississippi, a wet spring slowed planting and cut acreage. Erick Larson, corn and wheat specialist for Mississippi State University's agricultural extension service, estimated that at most 5 percent has been harvested.
"We had a horrendous spring as far as planting," Larson said. Once planting equipment was able to get into the field, it got chilly. Larson said March wasn't cold enough to keep the corn from germinating, but did slow the sprouts and reduce their density. Such slow growth is a bigger problem in corn than in other crops, he said.
Because of that, Larson said, many farmers cut back. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated Aug. 1 that Mississippi farmers would plant 900,000 acres in corn.
"I would guess somewhere around 700,000 acres is what it's going to end up being," Larson said.
Only about 29 percent of Mississippi's crop was ripe by Aug. 11 — well below the five-year average of 61 percent and last year's 82 percent, according to USDA figures. It forecast yield per acre at 165 bushels, the same as last year.
"We've actually had very favorable conditions, for the most part, during June, July and early August," Larson said. He said the crop will be late, but yield should be reasonable.
"Early yield reports have been very good so far," he said.
Levy said some farmers told him their corn is going straight onto barges because the Midwest crop is late.
He said heavy rains stopped the harvest last week in parts of central Louisiana, leaving fields too soggy.
By USDA estimates, Louisiana farmers planted about 750,000 acres of corn.
"I think we're closer to 700,000, 710,000 acres" in Louisiana, Levy said. Still, that would be about 30 percent above last year.
Neither state is near its record — 1.7 million acres in 1939 for Louisiana, more than 3.2 million for Mississippi in both 1938 and 1939.
But 750,000 acres would be Louisiana's highest since 1949, when 790,000 acres were planted.
Mississippi planted more than a million acres in 1960; the highest acreages since were 930,000 in 2007 and 878,000 in 1961.
It's the yield that's really looking good in Louisiana. The ears are big, and sunny weather in northeast and central Louisiana is drying them out nicely, Levy said.
"In the past we used to harvest it and dry it in grain bins. Because of the high cost of gas for dryers, more producers have gone to letting it dry in the field and then harvesting it and taking it straight to the elevators," he said.
What isn't high is prices.
Fewer than 350 acres of Louisiana's corn is sweet corn for human consumption. The rest is for animal feed.
Feed corn futures for September or December are less than $5 a bushel, down from more than $8 at this time last year, said Kurt Guidry, an LSU AgCenter economist.
"We still had corn prices in the $5-to-$6 range up until a month or so ago" because of uncertainty about this year's crop, he said.
Last year, drought in the Midwest cut production, raising prices. "This year, when you look at the U.S. as a whole, the corn crop is in pretty good condition right now," Guidry said. The crop nationwide is expected to total 14 billion bushels — well above the 12.1-bushel five-year average and about 30 percent more than last year's 10.7 billion.
Nationwide, Levy said farmers have planted about 3 million more acres than they did last year.