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Record harvest blessing and bane

Bumper corn crop will cut both ways

CHICAGO – The second ear of corn emerging on stalks across Pat Solon’s 1,600-acre farm is the latest sign that the U.S. crop this year will be a bin-buster.

“It’s the healthiest crop I’ve ever grown,” Solon, 50, said from his farm in Streator, Illinois. Two months before the harvest, stalks exceed 10 feet, with deep roots and ample soil moisture. “It’s been a great growing season.”

This year’s bumper corn crop is so unusual that Solon predicts he’ll yield 250 bushels an acre, 24 percent more than the average over the past decade. Iowa, the biggest corn-growing state, probably will produce as much as 2.8 billion bushels, topping the all-time high from 2009, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said.

U.S. production will set a record of 14.5 billion bushels in 2014, AgResource Co. estimates.

Two years after the worst U.S. drought in a century cut output and drove prices to record levels, ideal growing conditions have caused prices to tumble, plunging returns for growers to a four-decade low.

Corn plunged 14 percent in July on the Chicago Board of Trade, the biggest monthly drop since Septem­ber 2011.

Crop conditions are the best in a decade for this time of year, government data show, with 75 percent rated good or excellent as of July 27.

Low prices also are encouraging more demand from livestock producers that re­duced their herds after a 2012 drought cut output and sent futures to a record $8.49.

Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. meat producer, reported rec­ord third-quarter profit, aid­ed by lower feed costs as grain prices fell.

Tyson forecast rising meat production in 2015, with the chicken unit, the company’s biggest, expecting feed costs to decline by $400 million.

U.S. ethanol pro­duc­tion rose to 29.04 million barrels in May, up 6.8 percent from May 2013 and the highest since December, U.S. Department of Energy data show.

Money managers have cut their bets on price gains in 10 of 11 weeks through July 22 and are the least bullish they’ve been since February, U.S. Commodity Fu­tures Trading Commission data show.

The bearish outlook is being fueled by signs of improving yields.

While most plants in the Midwest produce just one 6-inch ear with about 500 kernels, some are sprouting a second one.

Ears in Iowa likely will av­erage 7.5 to 8 inches long, with 18 rows of 40 kernels each, or about 720 to 750 ker­­nels, the most ever, said Todd Claussen, director of agronomy at Farmers Coop­erative Co., the largest member-owned grain elevator in the state.

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