Big corn harvest could bring relief in 2012

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For dairy farmers and other livestock producers burdened by high feed costs over the past year, 2012 may bring some relief — if they can wait until next fall.

Corn above $6 a bushel is sure to encourage farmers to plant as much of the crop as they can, raising the prospect of a record harvest that would ease strain on dwindling supplies, analysts say. By a year or so from now, Chicago corn futures may be under $5.

Rich Feltes, a veteran analyst with R.J. O’Brien & Associates in Chicago, said U.S. corn plantings next year may reach 94 million acres, which would be up 2.3 percent from this year and the highest since 1944.

Barring major weather troubles, farmers would reap a crop of 14.14 billion bushels, up 15 percent from the 2011 crop and an all-time high, Feltes estimated. December 2012 corn futures, which reflect expectations for next year’s crop, would be poised to drop as low as $4.75, Feltes said, about 15 percent below current levels.

Among Feltes and other analysts, sentiment is growing that the corn market likely peaked in June with a record rally near $8 and lower prices are in store next year amid an outlook for bigger crops in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Prices for soybean meal, another key feed ingredient, are also expected to weaken next year from high levels earlier this year.

Meantime, livestock producers should prepare for more of the same, analysts say, with tight supplies likely to keep corn near or above $6 at least through the first half of 2012.

With corn expected to hold between $5.50 and $7, “Feed costs are going to be historically high” into next year, said Alan Levitt, an independent consultant who writes CME Group’s Daily Dairy Report.

Even at $6 corn, “dairy farmer profitability is going to be tight next year,” Levitt said. The all-milk price, an industry benchmark, will need to be $18 to $20 per hundredweight for many producers to break even, he said, “and that may be tough to achieve with international prices where they are and seem to be heading.”

In late trading Nov. 17, corn futures for delivery next month fell 30 cents to $6.12 ¾. Based on current futures prices, corn is expected to exceed $6 at least through July.



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