The Mid-South's experiment with corn appears to be turning out better than many expected. With records falling all around, Delta growers are on track to harvest at least 322.45 million bushels of the grain — more than three times their 2006 crop.

In its September crop production report, USDA said it expects farmers nationwide to harvest 13.3 billion bushels of corn, 2 percent more than in its August forecast and 26 percent above 2006. The 13.3 billion bushels would be the largest crop on record.

Although yields often decline when farmers increase planted acres (from 2006's 78 million to 92.8 million in 2007), U.S. growers could harvest an average of 155.8 bushels per acre, up 3 bushels from August and 6.7 bushels above last year, USDA said.

The report also said U.S. cotton farmers will harvest 17.8 million bales, up 3 percent from the August report but down 17 percent from last year's 21.6 million bales. Soybean production was projected to total 2.62 billion bushels, down 18 percent from last year's record high.

Corn futures moved higher despite the forecast coming in higher than trade expectations. The average of analysts' predictions for the Sept. 12 report was 13.12 billion bushels of corn, 2.65 billion bushels of soybeans and 17.41 million bales of cotton.

Abundant rainfall across the traditional Corn Belt appeared to be providing the impetus for the higher corn yields. States such as Iowa, the nation's largest corn-producing state, were expected to increase yields by 14 to 16 bushels per acre above 2006.

“Yield forecasts in the southern Great Plains and the Delta are also higher than last month as early harvest results are better than anticipated,” USDA said in the narrative accompanying the crop report.

Growers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi all were expected to produce higher corn yields. The projected state average yield for Arkansas was increased from 2006's 146 to 155 bushels per acre; Louisiana, 140 to 160 bushels per acre; and Mississippi, 110 to 130 bushels per acre.

Combined with last spring's sharp hikes in planted acres — Arkansas from 190,000 to 560,000; Louisiana, 300,000 to 750,000; and Mississippi, 340,000 to 980,000 — the three states are expected to produce 219.8 million bushels of corn more in 2007 than in 2006 for a total of 322.45 million bushels, up from 102.6 million last year. (USDA forecasts Missouri's crop at 473.2 million bushels, up from 362.9 million in 2006, and Tennessee's at 78 million, up from 62.5 million.)

Cotton producers could harvest an average of 811 pounds of lint per acre in 2007, up 28 pounds from what USDA was predicting in August, but down 3 pounds from the final 2006 yield average.

It said lower upland production forecasts in the Delta and Southeast states would be offset by a 15-percent increase in Texas production to 7 million 480-pound bales. Arkansas' crop was forecast down 675,000 bales to 1.85 million; Louisiana, down 591,000 to 650,000 bales; Mississippi, down 807,000 bales to 1.3 million; Missouri, down 235,000 to 750,000; and Tennessee, down 528,000 to 840,000.

USDA is projecting a total production decrease for the five states of 2.83 million bales, which would translate into a decline of $707.87 million in cotton lint revenue, based on the base loan rate of 52 cents per pound and 480-pound bales.

USDA said soybean yields were expected to be down 0.1 bushel from the August report and 1.3 bushels from last year after U.S. farmers reduced their plantings by 11.3 million acres.

“Compared with last month, yields are forecast lower across the central Corn Belt, the Tennessee Valley and the Southeast,” USDA said. “Hot, dry conditions contributed to most of the decline, especially in Kentucky and Tennessee, down 8 and 9 bushels from last month.

“However, yields increased from the Aug. 1 forecast in the northern Great Plains and northwestern Corn Belt, as beneficial rains fell during the month of August.”

USDA said rice farmers are expected to harvest 192 million hundredweight, up 1 percent from the August forecast and down 1 percent from 2006. National Agricultural Statistics Service analysts revised planted area to 2.75 million acres, down 3 percent from 2006.

As of Sept. 1, the U.S. rice yield is forecast at a record high 7,024 pounds per acre, up 40 pounds per acre from August and 156 pounds from last year. If realized, the figure would surpass the previous record of 6,988 set in 2004.

Sorghum production is forecast at 495 million bushels, up 4 percent from last month and up 78 percent from last year. “Based on September conditions, the yield is forecast to reach 73.9 bushels per acre, up 3 bushels from August and up 17.7 bushels from last year, which would also be a record,” USDA said.

Farmers are expected to harvest 6.7 million acres of sorghum, a 36-percent increase from 2006.