Records are made to be broken

It is said that records are made to be broken.  In my undergraduate days, a classmate set a record when, at one sitting, he ate 24 breaded jumbo shrimp at the local Friday seafood buffet. As noteworthy as that seemed at the time, Illinois corn and soybean farmers are on track to set four records this year – now that is really impressive and makes one marvel at today’s agriculture.

In recently released estimates on the size of this year’s Illinois corn and soybean crops, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) set the state corn yield at 194 bushels an acre with soybean yield projected to be 56 bushels an acre.  Both of these yields, if harvest goes well, will be records.  2004 was the year the previous Illinois corn yield record was set – 180 bushels an acre.  The 14 bushel increase in corn yield is testimony to contemporary farming technology, farming skill and, of course, some excellent weather.  It is a similar situation for soybeans – the new record yield of 56 bushels an acre is almost 9% higher than the previous record.  

In addition to potential record yields in Illinois, national corn and soybean yields are also expected to be the highest in history. The consequence of such outstanding yields is two more records will be broken – the size of the corn and soybean crops, nationally and for Illinois, could be the largest in history. 

As positive as it is to achieve record yield and production levels, there is a consequence.  In this case, USDA is forecasting corn prices to decline to about half of the level seen in 2012/13 crop year and be down 20% from last year’s prices.  Soybean prices are also forecast to decline, dropping about 25% from last year’s season average price. When record US corn and soybeans crops are matched with excellent crops elsewhere in the world, prices around the world will decline, not only in the US.

When you slow down and follow farm equipment as it is moved from one field to another during harvest this fall, think about the ability of Illinois farmers to set yield and statewide production records in corn and soybeans. The projected statewide corn yield, at 194 bushels an acre, is nearly an 8% increase over the previous record. And the possibility of a statewide average of 200 bushels an acre for corn is looking more and more realistic. That would really be both an achievement and another new record.   

I wonder if my friend’s jumbo breaded shrimp consumption record has been shattered because, as mentioned at the start of this column, records are made to be broken.  Just look at the example set by Illinois farmers.

Professor Bailey formerly was the Chief Economist for the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition.  He also has served as Deputy-Under Secretary of Agriculture.

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