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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Rains Help Ease Crop Worries in U.S. Corn Belt

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

America's leading food crop is corn. Most of that corn comes from the middle of the country. Recently, farmers in the Corn Belt states of the Midwest have been concerned about the weather. They have been worried that dry conditions and unusually high temperatures could mean a smaller crop this year.

Rains and cooler weather last week improved conditions in many fields and helped ease concerns, at least for now.

The thought of a hot, dry summer may be enough to worry any farmer. But July is an extremely important month for maize pollination. Corn kernels may not develop if the soil gets too dry or the sun too hot.

Drought conditions are the leading threat each year to farmers in the United States.

The area of the country known as the Corn Belt includes Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana and Wisconsin. Other states are South Dakota, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky.

The Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service says producers have planted thirty-two million hectares of corn this year. That is a little less than last year, but more than they had expected in March.

As of July tenth, sixty-three percent of the corn crop was rated good to excellent. That number was up from fifty-eight percent last year. But it was down from sixty-eight percent the week before.

In the past few weeks, corn futures reached their highest prices in two years on the Chicago Board of Trade. On July twelfth, a bushel of corn for shipment in December cost about two dollars and eighty-five cents.

The rains last week brought corn prices down from their recent highs. Now the question is how far those prices will drop.

Demand for corn is growing, not just to feed cattle and people but also to feed engines. Ethanol from corn is becoming more popular as a plant-based fuel because of high oil prices.

Corn is used in thousands of products. Last year, American farmers produced more than eleven thousand million bushels of corn.

Farmers reported planting fifty-two percent of their corn last year from genetically engineered seed. The Economic Research Service says reports this year put the number at just over sixty percent.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Brianna Blake. Transcripts and archives of our reports are at www.unsv.com. To send us e-mail, write to special@voanews.com. I'm Doug Johnson.

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