Minnesota corn farmers are expected to have the best crop in the U.S. corn belt, with a harvest expected to top last year's by 7 percent

With much of the U.S. corn crop is in tatters due to drought, U.S. corn production in 2012 is expected to fall 13 percent over last year, hitting the lowest mark since 2006, the United States Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.

Nationally, corn yields are expected to average only 122.8 bushels per acre, 24.4 bushels less than last year, and the worst showing since 1995. Still, the USDA's latest crop estimate was better than expected by commodities analysts, sending corn prices to a seven-week low, Bloomberg News reported.

While parts of southern Minnesota have been abnormally dry, the state overall has been lucky weather-wise compared with the corn belt generally.

Minnesota is forecast to produce 1.29 billion bushels of corn, with a yield of 156 bushels per acre. While that yield is unchanged from last year, it's the highest of any major corn-producing state.

The USDA this month actually raised its Minnesota corn forecasts a bit. Corn production in Minnesota is up even though yields are flat because farmers planted considerably more corn this year, hoping to cash in on high prices.

Minnesota's soybean production is forecast to be 263 million bushels in 2012, down 3 percent from last year, according to the USDA. Sobyean yields, as measured in bushels per acre, are expected to be just a notch below last year.

The state's sugar beet crop is gangbusters compared to 2011. Production is expected to be 12.8 million tons, up 43 percent from last year. Yields are forecast at 27 tons per acre, up 8 tons per acre over 2011, and if realized, a state record.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003