In its weekly crop progress update Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rated 23 percent of the nation’s corn crop as good or excellent — the same rating as last week and an indication that corn quality has leveled off for the time being.

Despite the challenges, the National Corn Growers Association reports, farmers have already begun harvesting crops in some areas.

Expected production will still come in at more than 10 billion bushels, the eighth highest on record.

“We recognize the severity of the drought and we also recognize the need for patience and perspective as the season continues,” said NCGA President Garry Niemeyer, a grower in Illinois.

Due in great part to an earlier planting, corn crop progress is ahead of schedule in many areas, Niemeyer noted.

USDA tracks crop progress according to various stages of corn development, with 42 percent of the crop now in the dent stage, compared to an average of 16 percent at this time.

Ten percent of the crop has reached maturity, the final stage before harvest, seven percentage points above the average.

Last Friday, USDA estimated a 10.8 billion bushel corn crop with an average national yield of 123.4 bushels per acre. The next production estimate will be released Sept. 12.

Click here for NCGA’s drought resources page.