Since early October, corn prices have bounced in a wide trading range.

March 2012 futures have traded between about $5.75 and $6.75 while December 2012 futures have been between about $5.35 and $6.20, said University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good.

"The wide price fluctuations have reflected numerous changes in indications of underlying supply and demand for corn. Those changing factors included USDA production and stocks reports, South American weather, the rate of exports and export sales, the rate of ethanol production, and expectations about the potential size of the 2012 U.S. crop," he said.

Prices have also likely been influenced by the volatility in the financial, currency, and metals markets, he said.

"Currently March 2012 futures are near the middle of the four-month trading range while December 2012 futures are in the low end of the recent range," Good added.

Prices for the 2011 crop are currently being supported by a fairly rapid rate of consumption and ongoing uncertainty about the size of the upcoming South American harvest.

Basis levels have been generally strong since harvest and are currently at record levels for this time of year in some markets.

"Although Dec. 1, 2011, stocks of U.S. corn were larger than expected, they were at a five-year low. Year-ending stocks are projected to be a relatively small 6.7 percent of consumption," he noted.

Ethanol production in the first two weeks of January was nearly 5 percent larger than during the same two weeks last year. The low price of ethanol relative to gasoline suggests that blending economics will remain favorable even without the blender's tax credit.