Corn was up another 6¢ across the board Friday, and March moved up 18¢ during the week. Presumably, the market is worrying about the likelihood of late planting and what USDA’s March crop report may reveal, relative to some producer re-polling about how much corn is still standing in the field.

“Given winter conditions since late December, combined with high soil-moisture levels in the central, northern and northwestern Corn Belt, it’s unlikely that much corn harvest progress will have occurred in time for the March 31 USDA stocks report,” Dan O’Brien, Kansas State University economist, said last week. “Because of the unusually fierce winter weather that kept some farmers from harvesting, the final tally on the 2009-10 corn crop may not be certain until the June 30 grain stocks report. If that’s the case, it could contribute to greater volatility than usual in the U.S. corn market this spring and summer.”

USDA data released Jan. 12 estimated that U.S. corn production in 2009 totaled a record-large 13.2 billion bu. Corn yields reached an all-time high in 2009 at 165.2 bu./acre. Planted area was 86.5 million acres and the second highest since 1949, behind 2007´s 93.5 million acres.

Yet, there’s uncertainty about the final size of the 2009 corn crop because USDA estimated the U.S. corn harvest was 95% complete as of Dec. 20, O’Brien says. If 5% of the U.S. crop is still unharvested, he explains that would amount to about 3.98 million acres. In turn, with the year’s average U.S. yield of 165.2 bu./acre, this could amount to 657.5 million bu. of the 2009 crop, still unharvested in 2010.

According to O’Brien, among the questions that persist are:

  • Possible impact of low corn test weights on feedgrain usage.
  • Quality deterioration of some corn supplies currently in storage.
  • Potential for production losses on as much as 500-650 million bu. of the 2009 crop corn still unharvested.
  • Possible corn crop abandonment this spring, due to wet soils and the need for farmers to begin fieldwork in preparation for planting the 2010 corn crop.
Bottom line, any significant reduction of the 2009 crop, in tandem with recent increases in estimated corn usage, will likely add even more volatility to corn prices.