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Published November 09, 2011, 08:00 PM

USDA: Less corn, beans, spuds in N.D. than forecast

With the harvest complete ahead of the typical schedule, North Dakota farmers took in less corn, soybeans and potatoes this fall than government officials estimated a month ago, according to a report released Wednesday.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

With the harvest complete ahead of the typical schedule, North Dakota farmers took in less corn, soybeans and potatoes this fall than government officials estimated a month ago, according to a report released Wednesday.

This latest official count shows the effects of the late, wet spring still showing up, despite what turned out to be a near-ideal harvest season with warm, dry weather dominating since August.

It’s also the last, best estimate so far, because Monday the federal crop counters said only a percent or two of the late-season row crops remained in the field. Normally, nearly half the corn crop still would be in the field.

In Minnesota, where corn and soybeans dominate the acreage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimates show that the early hard frost in mid-September perhaps affected the crop more than realized a month ago, according to The Associated Press.

Corn

The USDA statistics office in Fargo reported corn combined for grain in North Dakota ended up totaling 226 million bushels across the state, 9 percent fewer bushels than its forecast last month and also 9 percent lower than last year’s harvest.

Per-acre yields for North Dakota’s corn crop were way down, averaging 110 bushels an acre, 11 bushels below the October estimate and 22 bushels below last year’s record yields.

Corn acres harvested were up 9 percent from last year, at 2.05 million acres as high prices this spring encouraged farmers to plant more corn.

Despite the downturn in the state’s corn output, for the third year in North Dakota history, corn production outstripped the king, spring wheat, due to marked decrease in spring wheat production to 168 million bushels.

In 2007 and 2008, corn production also was larger than spring wheat production in North Dakota as better corn seed varieties, production practices and prices supported by ethanol production have tripled corn production in the past decade or so.

Minnesota’s corn production came in at 1.22 billion bushels, down 5 percent from last year’s record output, but still one of the biggest crops ever and representing about 10 percent of the nation’s total crop. The average corn yield in Minnesota is forecast at 160 bushels per acre, down 17 bushels from last year’s record yield.

Soybeans

North Dakota’s soybean production was pegged at 111 million bushels in Wednesday’s report, down 3 percent from last month’s forecast and a full 20 percent below the 2010 figure. Yields were estimated to average 28 bushels an acre, down 1 bushel from last month’s estimate and 6 bushels below last year’s yields. The state’s farmers harvested 3.95 million acres of soybeans, 3 percent below last year’s figure. For comparison’s sake, that’s about 60 percent as many acres planted to spring wheat each year in the state.

Minnesota soybean production was forecast at 280 million bushels, down 15 percent from a record 2010 crop, but not far from the five-year average output of 290 million bushels from 2005-2009; partly the decrease was because farmers shifted acres from soybeans to corn to take advantage of better prices.

Soybean average yields are projected at 40 bushels per acre, down five bushels from last year.

Based on expected yields and what prices were at this spring, Minnesota farmers would have expected to gross about $900 to $1,000 an acre with corn this year, compared with $400 to $450 with soybeans.

Potatoes

Potato production in North Dakota was pegged at 18.1 million hundredweights, down 18 percent from last year’s output, with 77,000 acres harvested, 3,000 fewer than last year. The season’s too-wet nature early on is reflected in the figures for planted acres: 84,000 both this year and last, except this year a full 7,000 acres of potatoes didn’t end up making it to harvest.

Average yield was estimated at 235 hundredweight per acre, down 40 hundredweight, or about 20 percent, from last year’s spud crop.

Nationally, USDA Wednesday pegged corn production at 12.3 billion bushels, down 1 percent from last month’s estimate and from last year’s crop; but still the fourth-biggest crop on record. Yields were estimated to average 146.7 bushels an acre, down 1.4 bushels from October’s forecast and 6.1 bushels below last year and the lowest average yield since 2003.

U.S. soybean output was estimated at 3.05 billion bushels, down slightly from last month’s estimate and 9 percent below last year. Yields averaged 41.3 bushels an acre, down 0.2 bushel from October’s estimate and 2.2 bushels below last year; it also would be the lowest average yield since 2003.

The USDA said national potato production would total 424 million hundredweights, 5 percent higher than 2010, with harvested acres up 7 percent from last year and average yields down 6 hundredweights at 395 hundredweights per acre.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send email to slee@gfherald.com.

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