Yield loss eyed as snow covers U.S. corn crop

CHICAGO Mon Dec 28, 2009 2:21pm EST

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - As much as 100 million bushels of U.S. corn could be lost after heavy snowstorms in recent days likely delayed until spring the final stages of an already historically slow harvest, analysts and meteorologists said on Monday.

The harvest delays helped to push up corn futures more than 1 percent to a six-month high on Monday at the Chicago Board of Trade.

"There are 620 million bushels left in the field and we could lose 10 percent of that," said Joe Victor, analyst for Illinois-based research and consulting firm Allendale Inc.

The U.S. Agriculture Department last week in its final harvest update of the year said 5 percent of the corn crop was still in the fields.

And after much of the U.S. Midwest and Plains regions were pounded by heavy winter storms in past several days, it's likely to stay there until next year.

As much as 25 inches of snow fell in parts of the Dakotas -- two states where the corn harvest was furthest behind.

Heavy snowstorms also plagued other states where the corn harvest was far from done: Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

"(The corn) is sitting in the field with snow cover due to all this severe weather in the last month," said Mike Palmerino, forecaster with DTN Meteorlogix.

Analyst estimates for the yield loss ranged from 50-100 million bushels. Still, the corn crop is still expected to be the second-largest on record, behind only 2007's record crop of 13.038 billion bushels.

"We see the total corn crop down 100 million bushels from the current USDA estimate because of a combination of problems from the late harvest and the winter storms," said Terry Reilly, analyst for Citigroup.

"We may see some of the corn fall over and that will just make it harder to harvest," Reilly said.

Yield loss occurs when corn plants are knocked down and when the ear falls off the stem of the plant. Both are caused by harsh winds and snowfall, and result in a loss when the crop-cutting combines fail to gather the grain.

Some farmers were still hoping to complete in the next few weeks one of the slowest harvest in decades. But if temperatures warm up enough for the snow to melt, it might also leave the ground too wet to combine.

"(Farmers) are hoping the ground will freeze so they can get out there, but (also hoping) the corn won't freeze to the ground," said a grain buyer at a processor in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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