The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects a record corn crop this year, but stocks will still be tight, and farmers will need strong yields to meet demand, says an American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) economist.

USDA’s release of its May World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates today pegged U.S. corn production at 13.5 billion bu. in 2011. That would be the largest U.S. crop ever, surpassing the record 13.1 billion bu. corn crop in 2009.

“It’s important to remember that this is a preliminary estimate from USDA. A lot can change from now until harvest,” says Todd Davis, AFBF crops economist. “We still don’t know the impact late planning in Corn Belt states east of the Mississippi will have on this year’s corn crop. We’re going to need a warm summer with timely rains to realize this 13.5 billion bu. corn crop.”

USDA projects U.S. corn farmers will plant 92.2 million acres this year, 5% more than last year and 7% more than was planted in 2009. That would be the second-highest planted corn acreage in the United States since 1944, behind only the 93.5 million acres planted in 2007, according to USDA.

USDA projects an average corn yield of 158.7 bu. per acre, slightly lower than the long-standing average of 162 bu. per acre and the 2009 record yield of 164.7 bu. per acre. “The lower yield estimate reflects this year’s later planted crop,” Davis says.

Despite the projected record corn crop, USDA still envisions a very tight supply picture for the 2011-2012 crop year. “For the corn crop harvested this fall, USDA projects a stocks-to-use ratio of 6.7%. This is a very tight supply, representing just 25 days of use,” Davis says. “Because of tight stocks and strong demand, USDA projects high prices for this year’s harvest at $5.50-$6.50 per bu.”