The drought-reduced U.S. corn crop of 2012 suggested that corn prices might behave in a pattern generally described as “short crops have long tails,” says Darrel Good, a University of Illinois agricultural economist. “This phrase depicts the expectation of rapidly rising prices that peak near harvest time, decline in an unspecified pattern over the next several months, and return to pre-drought levels as early as the following marketing year. The decline in prices is expected as a result of a slowdown in consumption and a return to normal production.”

Corn prices this year have generally followed the expected short-crop pattern as the anticipated consumption and supply responses continue to unfold. The pace of consumption of U.S. corn so far in the 2012-2013 marketing year has been slower than last year.  However, the slowdown has been modest and has come primarily in the export market and in the production of ethanol rather than in the domestic feed market as was earlier expected, he says.

“The rapid pace of domestic feed and residual use of corn revealed on Jan. 11 breathed some life back into old-crop corn prices even though the pace of exports and domestic processing remain low,” he says.

In addition to a slowdown in consumption of U.S. corn, the USDA projects another large corn harvest in Brazil in 2013 and a rebound in production in Argentina following the drought-reduced harvest of 2012.  Although crops will likely be large, the size of those crops is yet to be determined, and recent dryness in some areas has raised some yield concerns, he says.

“Some of the elements that contribute to the price decline following a short crop are clearly occurring. The final – and likely the most important – element of the expected price decline is the size of the 2013 corn crop,” Good says.

The question is whether production will fully rebound from the extremely low level of 2012 as it has following other droughts over the past 50 years, he said.