The Agriculture Department projects a record U.S. corn crop this year, but despite the expected increase in production, American Farm Bureau Federation economists emphasize that stocks are still tight and corn farmers will need strong yields to meet demand and build stocks to more comfortable levels.

USDA released its May World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates May 11, which pegs U.S. corn production at 13.5 billion bushels in 2011. If realized, this would be the largest U.S. crop ever, outdoing the record 13.1 billion bushel corn crop in 2009.

“It’s important to remember that this is a preliminary estimate from USDA. A lot can change from now until harvest, explained Todd Davis, AFBF crops economist. “We still don’t know the impact late planting in Corn Belt states east of the Mississippi will have on this year’s corn crop. We’re going to need a warm summer with timely rains to realize this 13.5 billion bushel corn crop.

USDA projects U.S. corn farmers will plant 92.2 million acres this year, 5 percent more than last year and 7 percent more than planted in 2009. If realized, this would be the second highest planted corn acreage in the United States since 1944, behind only the 93.5 million acres planted in 2007, according to USDA.

Davis notes that USDA projects an average yield of 158.7 bushels per acre in its May estimate for the 2011 corn crop, which would be slightly lower than the long-run trend of 162 bushels per acre and the 2009 record yield of 164.7 bushels per acre. “The lower yield estimate reflects this year’s later planted crop, Davis said.

USDA still sees a very tight supply situation for the 2011/2012 crop year. “For the corn crop harvested this fall, USDA projects a stocks-to-use ratio of 6.7 percent. This is a very tight supply, representing just 25 days of use, Davis said. “Because of tight stocks and strong demand, USDA projects high prices for this year’s harvest at $5.50 - $6.50 per bushel.

For a rundown on the latest USDA crop projections, see http://southeastfarmpress.com/grains/usda-projects-record-corn-crop.