In its weekly crop progress report issued yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 15 percent of the nation’s corn has been harvested — triple the five-year average at this point in time.

The reason is the impact of this year’s devastating drought and the recognition that farmers won’t gain much by delaying their corn harvest.

“Here in Illinois, one of the states whose corn farmers have been hardest hit, there are combines running all over the place,” said National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer, who farms near Auburn, Ill. “Our heart goes out to all farmers who are hit hard by this drought and the unceasing heat this summer.”

The condition of the corn crop itself has stabilized the past three weeks, Niemeyer noted, with only 22 percent rated good or excellent, and more than half — 52 percent — rated poor or very poor. The rain that came with Tropical Storm Isaac the first week of September helped get water in the ground, but it was too late for most corn. Now, farmers’ thoughts are focused on harvest and preparing for 2013.

Tomorrow morning at 7:30, all eyes will be on Washington as the USDA releases its monthly production and supply-and-demand reports. In its August report, the USDA knocked 4 billion bushels off its original May estimate, dropping corn production from 14.8 to 10.8 billion bushels, and cutting the yield from 166 to 123.4 bushels per acre.

Niemeyer remains confident in the ability of corn farmers to do what they’ve always done – move beyond this year’s crises and lead the way in providing food, feed, fuel and fiber to a growing world.

“We were fortunate this year because the drought came at a time when we had better, stronger seed, better agronomics and more planted acres,”  Niemeyer said. “These factors helped us grow much more corn than we would have seen just a decade or two ago under similar circumstances.”

At the same time, Niemeyer reiterated the need for sound farm policy.

“In the worst drought in recent years, Congress has failed to pass a new farm bill before the current one expires at the end of this month,” he said. “Tomorrow, I will join many of my colleagues in a rally on Capitol Hill to call for passage of a farm bill by the end of the month. It can be done, and it must be done.”