Floods and heavy rains last month washed away about 2 percent of the nation's corn crop, a serious blow to national agriculture but not as bad as some had feared.
The loss, most of it on the plains of Iowa, was reported Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Fears that soaring corn demand --for food and biofuels -- would go unmet as a result of the floods pushed corn futures above $8 a bushel -- four times the 30-year average price of corn -- in trading on the Chicago Board of Trade in June.
Those fears cooled Monday -- and prices fell back below $8 -- as the latest reports showed that farmers planted more corn than expected when first surveyed in March.
The heavy rains that sent floodwaters cascading through the Mississippi River Valley compounded an unusually late planting start caused by cold, wet weather. Farmers as recently as early May had planted just half as much corn as is typical for that time of year, but a spell of agreeable weather allowed them to catch up.
"It's really astounding what can be planted in short amounts of time," said Nick Kouchoukos, an analyst with Lanworth, a Chicago grain forecasting service.
He said the 2 percent loss amounts to 1.5 million acres. "It's significant," he said.
"The large majority of that is in Iowa on plains between the river valleys where the fields had an extraordinary amount of water dumped on them."
Iowa corn toll: $1.5 billion
The flood toll for Iowa's corn farmers amounts to about $1.5 billion in lost revenue, according to a report Monday from the Iowa State University extension service.
Farmers nationwide expect to harvest 78.9 million acres of corn, a 8.8 percent drop from last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers planted 87.3 million acres of corn this year, meaning that about 9.6 percent of the plantings have been lost, and about 2 percent of that loss comes from last month's rains and floods, according to the report.
Farmers surveyed in March said they planned to plant about 86 million acres of corn. The increase in planted acres will ease any food inflation brought on by bad weather so far this year.
Minnesota's farmers planted 7.8 million acres of corn this year, an area six times larger than the Boundary Waters Area Canoe Wilderness, according to figures released Monday. That's still 7 percent less than last year's record acreage.
The state corn crop, with 71 percent rated in good or excellent condition as of Sunday, looks much better than in Iowa, where just 53 percent of the crop met those ratings.
Minnesota's soybean acres stand at 7.1 million, up 13.6 percent from last year. Wheat acres, at 1.8 million, are 6 percent higher than last year.
Government reports also noted on Monday that the amount of corn in reserve nationwide stands at 4.03 billion bushels, a 14 percent jump from a year earlier.
That's nearly twice the 2.3 billion bushels used last year for ethanol, which has been blamed, in part, for rising food prices and global food shortages. The ethanol industry used 18 percent of domestic corn production last year, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
Reserves of two other major crops have fallen, however, with soybean stocks down 38 percent from a year ago and wheat stocks down 33 percent.
Minnesota reported the largest one-year drop in soybean supplies on record: 41 percent. The state's wheat stockpile was down 33 percent, the lowest on record. Corn supplies on June 1 stood at 460 million bushels, the same as last year.
Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329