Despite adverse weather conditions that delayed both planting and harvest, Iowa farmers in 2008 produced the fourth largest corn crop in state history. The final production report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows Iowa produced a 2.2 billion bushel crop.

The average yield in Iowa was 171 bushels-per-acre, the same as in 2007. Tim Burrack, a corn grower from Arlington in northeast Iowa, says the slowdown in the ethanol industry combined with the big U.S. corn crop will make things tough for grain farmers in 2009. "Profitability for ’09 becomes the number one factor that we’re all concerned about," Burrack said in a conference call arranged by the Iowa Corn Growers Association. "It could be difficult in reaching that objective…fertilizer prices are just too high in proportion to…what could be considerably lower corn values."

Across the country, farmers harvested 12-point-one (12.1) billion bushels of corn in 2008, the second largest crop on record. Darrel McAlexander, who farms near Sydney in southwest Iowa, says the situation will likely lead to fewer corn acres being planted in the state next fall. "As long as fertilizer prices stay high and input prices stay high, with lower corn prices, we could see an increase in soybean acres," McAlexander said.

He credits new traits and hybrids now available to farmers for the increase in production during an unusual growing season. Burrack said he’ll wait until the end of March to decide how much corn he’ll plant this year. The decision will depend on where fertilizer and corn prices stand.

"I personally have 10 to 20 percent of my acres that I can float either way, that I purposely leave like that," Burrack said. "So, my corn acres could go up or down for ’09 and I’m just going to stay open on that until that point in time. I think there are a lot of other people in the same boat." Dean Taylor, who farms near Prairie City in central Iowa, says the volatile corn markets and input costs will present a tremendous challenge heading into the next growing season.

"There’s a lot of talk about fertilizer prices coming down, certainly on the wholesale level, but a lot of the fertilizer retailers have very high inventories at very high prices. So, that’s really what most of us are going to be working with market-wise as we buy our fertilizer going into the cropping season, regardless of where fertilizer prices are ahead of that," Taylor said.