Grain farmers in line for cost threshing In Md., a harvest of lower output, prices

Agriculture FTCBY: Ted Shelsby

September 12, 1998|By SUN STAFF

Maryland grain farmers face the worst of both worlds this harvest season: smaller crops and lower prices.

In its second forecast of the fall harvest, the Agriculture Department predicted yesterday that bumper U.S. corn and soybean crops will continue to push grain prices down.

But the USDA said production in Maryland would be lower than it first estimated.

A lingering drought that has been particularly severe in Southern Maryland and the lower Eastern Shore continues to take its toll on the state's corn and soybean crops. Based on field conditions of Sept. 1, the department's Agricultural Statistics Service forecast that farmers will harvest an average of 100 bushels of corn from each acre planted, down from last month's estimate of 105 bushels.

The latest estimate puts the corn yield at 10 bushels more per acre than last year, when a disastrous drought cost state farmers $147 million in lost income, and 28 percent lower than 1996's 139 bushels per acre.

The news wasn't any better for soybean growers. This year's harvest is estimated at 26 bushels per acre, down 10.3 percent from last month's forecast of 29 bushels and two bushels below last year's average yield of 28 bushels per acre.

"I've said it before and I will say it again: This is not going to be a good year for a lot of farmers around the state," said Kevin McNew, an economist with the Agricultural and Resource Economics Department of the University of Maryland.

"They are struggling with lower prices and below average production."

McNew said the average price Maryland farmers receive for corn and soybeans has fallen 27 percent, to $2.20 and $5 a bushel respectively.

For the nation as a whole, the USDA raised its forecast for corn production to 9.74 billion bushels, up 2 percent from last month's estimate and 4 percent bigger than last year's harvest.

The average yield is expected to be 132 bushels per acre.

The USDA also increased its estimate of the size of this year's soybean harvest by 3 percent, to a record 2.91 billion bushels, a 7 percent increase over last year's 2.73 billion bushels. The average yield is expected to reach 40.6 bushels per acre.

The USDA predicted that the record soybean harvest coupled with flat demand will continue to push prices down.

It said the price could drop to $4.65 a bushel.

The government said that while the outlook for corn exports has improved slightly over the past month, prices are expected to fall to as low as $1.80 a bushel.

McNew said many farmers, waiting for higher grain prices, still have last year's grain in storage bins, which also will put pressure on prices.

"They will have to clear out the bins to make room for the new harvest, and this is going to put a lot of grain on the market in the next couple of months," he said.

He said he expects the price Maryland farmers receive for their corn and soybeans to drop by 20 cents a bushel next month.

Pub Date: 9/12/98

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