A comparison of world corn yields

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People often ask how corn yields in China or elsewhere compare to corn yields in the U.S. The foreign data are normally reported in tonnes per hectare while most of us think of yields in bushels per acre. We calculated the trend yields for key countries and regions using the 1999 through 2013 data. The following table converts recent years’ yields into bushels per acre for comparison.

click image to zoom The analysis shows U.S. corn yield well above those of other countries even with the poor yields of the last few years factored in (we included all years except 2012). But the data also shows that yields are rising at a faster pace in some key competing countries. Yields in the former Soviet Union, principally Ukraine, are increasing at a rate of about 3 bushels per acre per year, not quite double the rate in the U.S. Corn yields in the former Soviet Union are still well below those in the U.S. but the big gains in yields are allowing the region to export a lot more corn.

click image to zoom China’s trend yields are approaching 100 bushels per acre, which suggests that there is still a lot of room for improvement. The trend yield in China is rising at a rate of 1.37 bushels per acre per year, a little below the annual growth in the U.S. yield. That suggests that the gap between the U.S. and China’s yields will continue to widen at least over the near term. China’s yield finally tops 100 bushels per acre in 2018.

Brazil’s corn production and exports are also increasing dramatically. The rate of increase in trend yields in Brazil also exceeds that for the U.S. (2.4 bushels per acre per year versus 1.7 bushels per acre per year). Brazil has also seen a 4 million acre increase in harvested area over the past decade. These factors turned Brazil into the world’s largest corn exporter in the 2012/13 season.

While corn area in Africa has been increasing in recent years (up almost 17 million acres between 2002/03 and 2012/13) corn yields in the region are still very low at least compared to yields in other parts of the world. The trends show that even by 2020, corn yields in Africa will still average below 35 bushels per acre. Even if corn acreage rises by another 5 million acres between now and 2020, imports of about 20 million tonnes will be needed to balance supply with consumption.

Argentina’s yields are the closest to those in the U.S. in the countries and regions included in this analysis. Yields in Argentina are forecast to be near 120 bushels per acre this season (2013/14) a little above the trend based on the 1999 to 2013 data. Yields in Argentina are pretty erratic, with a record high over 132 bushels per acre in 2009/10 and 93 bushels per acre in 2011/12. For all of the countries and regions included in the analysis the yield variability is the highest in Argentina.

click image to zoom The average world corn yield is about 85 bushels per acre. World corn yields are rising at between 1.3 percent and 1.4 percent per year, a faster pace than the growth in world population of 1.16 percent per year. That allows for some modest increase in per capita consumption, even with no increase in corn area. However, world corn area has increased significantly over the last few years further boosting overall production.

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Kate Tully    
New York  |  March, 15, 2014 at 01:05 PM

Where did you get the data for table 1? Thanks, Kate

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