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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Heat to cut south-central Kansas corn yield by 40%

BY DAN VOORHIS
The Wichita Eagle

Months of blistering heat and drought is forecast to cut the south-central Kansas corn harvest almost 40 percent below last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In Kansas as a whole, the corn crop is predicted to be 473 million bushels, down 19 percent from last year, even though farmers planted more acres.

The weather took its toll on farmers' yields, the amount of corn harvested per acre. Last year south-central Kansas farmers averaged 137 bushels of corn an acre. This year, they averaged 97 bushels per acre.

The difficult conditions have carried over into the soybean and grain sorghum crops, which are harvested in the fall. USDA is forecasting that soybean yields statewide will fall 20 percent and production will be down 10 percent from last year. It expects grain sorghum yields to dip 27 percent and production to fall 28 percent.

Gary Cramer, Sedgwick County agricultural extension agent, said many farmers are asking him what to do with a field of crops that just can't be harvested.

The drought, Cramer said, even threatens next year's wheat crop, for which planting has just begun.

"If this continues into next year, it will be devastating on these guys," Cramer said. "I hope they have a good relationship with their banker."

Tighter corn supplies mean higher corn prices, which is bad news for the consumers of corn such as livestock farmers, ethanol plants and food processors.

It takes about six months for corn prices to trickle down to products at the grocery store.

But many food producers are already being squeezed by the higher prices. Chicken producer Sanderson Farms reported its third straight quarterly loss late last month, in part, because of increased costs for feed. Smithfield Foods, the world's largest hog producer, said last week that high feed costs would remain a problem this year.

"Ingredient prices are going to stay high for a while," said Jason Ward, an analyst with Northstar Commodity in Minneapolis, Minn.

The USDA estimated Monday that a surplus of 672 million bushels of corn will be left over at the end of next summer. The estimated surplus is down from last month's forecast and well below levels that are considered healthy.

This spring, farmers planted the second-largest crop since World War II. But high temperatures stunted the plants.

"We just didn't have a good growing year," Ward said. "It was too hot... too dry at the wrong time."

The price of corn was relatively unchanged at $7.33 a bushel on Monday. While that's down from its peak of $7.99 reached in June, it's still nearly twice the price paid last summer.

Contributing: The Associated Press Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com.

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