USDA recently lowered the national corn yield projection from 175.1 to 173.8 bushels per acre and raised both planted and harvested acres. The increase in acres more than offset the impact of the yield decline, with a 23-million-bushel increase in projected corn production, still rounding to 15.1 billion bushels.
Should we expect further adjustments in corn acres and yields in upcoming reports? This question is on the minds of farmers and industry stakeholders right now. With great variability in early harvest reports, the answer will become clearer as U.S. corn farmers progress to the finish. In the meantime, here’s a look at three historical data relationships to provide historical context.
Path of Projected Planted Acres for 2023
USDA initially projected 92.0 million planted corn acres, based on farmer intentions in March 2023. Farmer surveys of actual planted acres and area remaining to be planted in the first two weeks of June led USDA to raise the projection to 94.1 million planted corn acres in the June Acreage Report. At the time of survey, 2.5 million of the 94.1 million acres were still unplanted, leaving open the possibility that some acres could go unplanted or switched to another crop. However, the planted acres that farmers reported to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) indicates those acres were planted to corn.
FSA-to-NASS Planted Acres Ratio
Not all farmers report to FSA. Over the last three years, corn acres reported as planted (including failed) to FSA have been 98% of the total planted acres of corn. As of September 1, farmers reported planting 93.2 million acres corn to FSA, which would account for 99% of the 94.1 million from the June report. September’s increase in projected acres to 94.9 million acres results in a 98.2% ratio of FSA to total planted acres, putting it in line with recent years.
FSA will continue to update acres data through early January. In the last three years, the reported FSA corn planted acres increased by an average of 0.5% from September to January. If corn acres reported to FSA increase by more than normal, or if there’s a divergence from the recent relationship between the two sets of acres numbers, that could influence USDA’s top line number for planted acres in the coming months.
The projections for 2023 won’t officially be finalized until October 2024. There are exceptions, but the historical norms indicate little to no change would be expected after the January 2024 report. For the past 10 years, final planted corn acres have always ended lower than the September projection. The change is normally very small, less than 0.3% in five of the 10 years. The most recent year in which the planted acres projection increased from the September report to the final number is 2012, just outside the recent decade.
Harvested-to-Planted Acres Ratio
In the September report, USDA moved projected harvested acres proportionally to planted acres. The current projection of 87.1 million harvested corn acres is 91.8% of the planted acres projection. This is 0.5% above the 91.3% average ratio of harvested-to-planted acres over the past decade. Given the drought in major corn-growing states this year, a less-than-normal proportion of planted acres harvested for grain is possible.
In 2022, when drought impacted part of the corn belt, the harvested-to-planted acres ratio was 89.4%. If 2023 experienced the same ratio of harvested-to-planted acres and if planted acres did not change from the current projection, that would equal 84.8 million harvested acres. With the current yield projection of 173.8, that would translate to 14.7 billion bushels, 2.6% lower than the current forecast.
Initial-to-Final Yield Projections
The current yield projection of 173.8 bushels per acre for 2023 is just above the 173.3 bushels per acre yield from 2022. Although the yield value is higher, the reduction from the initial trend projection is larger. The final yield in 2022 was 2.1% lower than the initial trend yield projection of 177 bushels per acre. The current yield projection of 173.8 bushels per acre for 2023 is 4.2% lower than the initial trend yield projection of 181.5 bushels per acre.
For additional historical comparison, final yield was 4.8% lower than the initial projection in the exceptionally wet 2019 crop year. In the major drought year of 2012, final yield was 25.8% lower than the initial projection.
USDA publishes weekly estimates of the percentage of the corn growing area in drought. From June through September 2023, weekly estimates showed anywhere from 42% of 70% of corn area was in drought. Over the same period in 2022, weekly estimates showed 17% to 34% of the corn area was in drought.
As evidenced in the weekly estimates, drought was more widespread across the corn-growing areas in 2023. Not only was a larger swath of the corn area affected, but the expansion area also included some of the nation’s leading production areas. Together, the four largest corn-producing states – Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska – normally produce about 50% of the nation’s corn. In 2023, drought was prevalent in the corn-growing regions of all four states over much of the growing season.
Given more widespread drought in the largest corn-producing states, one may except a lower national yield than 2022. Although higher in value, the current projection for 2023 is lower relative to the initial trend projection. The overall impact of 2023 drought conditions will be better understood with movement toward final yield values after harvest is complete.
As of the week ending September 24, 15% of corn has been harvested. There will be more clarity on acres and yields as harvest progresses. The October WASDE report is highly anticipated, but a looming government shutdown could impact the timing of the report release or if it is completed.