USDA predicts record crop yields

Crop yields could be slightly higher than in 2012, according to the USDA’s spring planting report released Thursday.

Despite last year’s drought, U.S. farmers planted more than 97 million acres of corn, the most in more than 70 years.

Eric Bidwell farms corn and soybeans south of Tama and north of Marshalltown. He said he is skeptical of the report’s claims that farmers are in for a record year.

“I always find it interesting how the USDA released acreage reports before anything is in the ground,” he said.

While he said he keeps up on USDA reports, weather patterns and timing play a larger role in planting than reports. Farmers are nimbler than they used to be, Bidwell said, so they are able to better adjust to planting conditions.

Mark Licht, an agronomist with Iowa State University extension, said corn prices are strong heading into planting season. However, the biggest change from last year is the weather; farmers are nowhere close to being as far along in the growing process as they were this time last year.

Above normal precipitation has pushed planting back, but Licht echoed Bidwell’s sentiment regarding how much more farmers can do with the advent of technology.

“Farmers can put a tremendous amount of acreage in the ground in a short amount of time,” he said. “I think the report does make sense what we are seeing on a local level.”

Kent Thomas, county president for the Marshall County Farm Bureau, said despite last year’s drought he came away with good yields. But everything farmers do is determined by the weather. He too said it is still too early in the season to make accurate prediction. Everything can change at the drop of a hat.

“It’s kind of like being a weather forecaster: you can be wrong 50 percent of the time and still keep your job,” he said of the USDA report. “For a government institution to think they have a hold on what is sitting out here in the country I don’t place a lot of faith in it.”

Farmers enrolled 2.6 million fewer acres in the conservation reserve program last year, which pays farmers not to farm their land.

Bidwell said he believes the conservation reserve program will continue to see a decline.

“We are going to continue to have those acres come out of the CRP,” he said. “Those are productive acres.”

Thomas said he will likely stay roughly within the 70-to-30 corn-to-soybean ratio he plants every year. He said he removed some of the 30 acres in the conservation reserve program from last year. But overall, those acres are just a small portion of the 1,150 acres his family farms.

The report is based on a survey of 80,000 farmers.