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Farm News & Views for the week of November 13, 2023

Last Thursday’s USDA crop production report surprised many grain traders considering a Corn Belt growing season that offered dry soils and record breaking heat waves. But last week, the agency declared that 2023’s U.S. corn production was the largest on record, amounting to 15.234 billion bushels, breaking the 2016 production record. When I talked to several Midwest farmers and Farm Managers in late October, they were amazed that yields for both corn & soybeans were much better than expected, considering the dry growing conditions that had affected their fields during much of the summer. The USDA increased both corn and soybean yields for the 2023 crops, which led to a significant drop in prices for both commodities last week. On average, U.S. farmers plant about 90 million acres of corn each year, with the majority of the crop grown in the Corn Belt, but climate change is changing the boundaries of corn production. The Corn Belt has traditionally spanned from Kansas to Ohio and from Missouri to the Dakotas, but it is shifting to the northwest probably due as much to new corn varieties that are adapted to the cooler temperatures of northern latitudes and probably also because of less pressure from corn pests found in the Midwest. However this relative of teosinte that is estimated to have been domesticated 10,000 years ago in Mexico has had a long history of being adaptable to changing climates. This article from Iowa State University paints an interesting picture of corn’s journey across the globe. 

The Midwest wasn’t the only area of the U.S. to suffer through nasty weather during summer 2023. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a new billion-dollar weather and climate disaster has been confirmed in October after severe thunderstorms brought damaging winds and large hail to parts of the southern Plains from September 23th to the 24th. This brings the total to a record 25 disasters in the first 10 months of the year, the largest number of disasters for any year since NOAA has kept track of these types of events. The total cost of the 2023 events thus far has exceeded $73.8 billion.

Farmers are usually eternal optimists, as is borne out by The Purdue University-CME Group Ag Economy Barometer that rose 4 points in October to a reading of 110. Farmers in this month’s survey were less concerned about the risk of lower prices for crops and livestock and felt somewhat better about their farms’ financial situation than a month earlier. High input costs remain the top concern among farmers for the year ahead, followed by rising interest rates. The index is based on a survey of 400 agricultural producers concerning their economic sentiment each month.

In Colorado, beef cattle are an important agricultural enterprise. The Colorado Beef Council points out that today, there are more than 2.6 million head of cattle and 13,000 beef producers throughout the state. Colorado ranks 10th overall in cattle numbers nationwide, and nearly one-third of Colorado's counties are classified as either economically dependent on the cattle industry or having the cattle industry serve an important role in their economies. Last year, the cash receipts from the sale of cattle and calves amounted to $2.5 billion, which represents over half of the gross 2022 farm income of $4.9 billion. But according to the USDA, beef output in the U.S. next year will be about 3 billion pounds lower than in 2022, and that marks the largest two-year decline in tonnage since 1977. The agency is projecting a 1.5% decrease in domestic availability this year, and beef availability for domestic consumers is projected to be reduced by 1.6 billion pounds in 2024.

Author Anne Raver wrote: “When people plant corn they are saying, let’s stay here. And by their connection to the land, they are connected to one another."

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.