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USDA: US corn yields may be up from last year, but pricing could slip

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ST. LOUIS - U.S. corn growers may surpass last year's record production despite lesser acreage devoted to the grain, but corn prices later in the year could edge lower, a federal report forecast Friday well ahead of an unpredictable summer.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's first World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report of the year envisions the nation's farmers producing 13.9 billion bushels of corn this year, up slightly from last year's record.

Higher yields were expected to offset the lesser acreage devoted to corn, according to the closely watched report, which estimated farmers would harvest 165.3 bushels of corn per acre, up 6.5 bushels from the previous year. Corn acreage is expected to be 91.7 million acres, down from 95.4 million acres.

But the season-average price for corn was forecast to be lower at a range of $3.85 and $4.55 per bushel, down from $4.50 to $4.80 a year earlier.

Globally, the USDA anticipates 2014-15 corn production of 979.1 million tons, unchanged from the previous period.

U.S. soybean production also is expected to be high, increasing by 346 million bushels to reach a record 3.64 billion bushels. A big part of the reason: The USDA expects farmers will plant 81.5 million acres of the crop, 5 million acres more than last year.

Soybean yields per acre are forecast to be 45.2 bushels, up roughly 2 bushels from a year ago, while the per-bushel price into 2015 could sink to $9.75 and $11.75 per bushel, down from $13.10 the previous year.

The report is the USDA's best guess of agricultural expectations, based on assumptions that this summer's weather will be normal across the Corn Belt. But weather events in coming months still could dramatically influence actual crop production, as illustrated in 2012 when months of summer drought withered U.S. corn and soybean fields, pushing prices to record levels.

"Farmers right now are in the process of planting, and there's nothing produced yet," said Dennis Conley, an agricultural economist at the University of Nebraska's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Growers across the nation's Corn Belt are hitting their stride now in planting their latest crop, making up for time lost to a stubbornly cold, wet advent of spring in much of the region. By this week, for example, corn planting had rebounded in Missouri and Illinois to a pace ahead of the five-year average.

The USDA said cold spells last month caused further declines in the condition of winter wheat. The department now expects that crop's production this year to be 1.40 billion bushels, down 9 per cent from last year. Yields were forecast to fall by 4.3 bushels per acre, to 43.1.

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