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Corn, Soybean Conditions Decline as U.S. Drought Expands

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July 30 (Bloomberg) -- The condition of the U.S. corn crop worsened for an eighth straight week amid the worst Midwest drought in a generation. Soybean ratings also fell.

About 24 percent of the corn was in good or excellent condition as of yesterday, down from 26 percent a week earlier and 77 percent in mid-May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report. An estimated 29 percent of the soybeans got the top ratings, down from 31 percent. Both crops are in the worst shape for this time of year since a drought in 1988.

“The damage has been done to the corn crop,” Peter Meyer, a senior director of agriculture commodities at PIRA Energy Group in New York, said by telephone today. “Now the weather is starting to become more of a factor in the soybean markets.”

The worst of the drought occurred when corn plants were going through the critical pollination stage last month. Soybeans, which normally are planted later in the Midwest, are just now entering reproductive stages, so they have more time to grow.

Corn futures reached a record $8.1775 a bushel today on the Chicago Board of Trade and have surged 28 percent this month. Soybeans are up 15 percent in July. During the past week, little or no rain fell in parts of Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska, the largest corn-growing states, National Weather Service data show.

Smaller Harvests

A drought in 1988 led to a 31 percent drop in corn production from a year earlier and a 20 percent decline for soybeans, USDA data show. Corn output in Iowa, the biggest U.S. grower, probably will fall 33 percent from 2011, Doane Advisory Services Co. said last week after surveying crops. Soybean output may drop to the lowest in nine years, Doane said.

Iowa farmers will harvest 1.58 billion bushels of corn, down from 2.356 billion in 2011, and the smallest crop since 1995, senior economists at the St. Louis-based researcher said last week after traveling 1,600 miles (2,574 kilometers) measuring yield potential across four states the past four days. Yields will plunge 32 percent to 117 bushels an acre from 172 bushels last year, the smallest since 1993.

The government’s crop-conditions report showed 63 percent of spring wheat, a high-protein variety used to make bread and pasta, was rated good or excellent, up from 60 percent a week earlier. As much as 3 inches of rain fell in North Dakota, the biggest U.S. wheat producer, in the past week, according to the National Weather Service.

The winter-wheat harvest was 85 percent completed, compared with 82 percent a week earlier, the USDA said. The average for the previous five years was 81 percent.

About 44 percent of the cotton crop was rated good or excellent, compared with 47 percent a week earlier. An estimated 70 percent of the rice crop got the top ranking, compared with 69 percent a week earlier.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony C. Dreibus in Chicago at tdreibus@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Stroth at sstroth@bloomberg.net.

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