* With improved yields, 13.4 bln bu crop possible
* Pork could top beef as No 2 US meat in 2014
* US corn and soybean output down three years in a row
NASHVILLE, Jan 14 (Reuters) - U.S. corn production, slashed dramatically by drought in 2012, could rebound to a record-large crop this year if yields improve moderately, said an agricultural economist from Texas A&M University on Monday.
The economist, David Anderson, also said pork production could top beef in 2014, pushing beef into third place in U.S. meat production. Poultry and pork production are on the rise while beef is held back by high feed costs and drought-damaged grassland.
“What we’re trying to do is make it to the next crop,” Anderson said, describing how livestock producers face several more months, at a minimum, of tight feed supplies.
High commodity prices will encourage farmers to plant roughly as much corn as last year, he said, and with higher yields, “you get a record crop,” with lower prices that will ease the financial squeeze on livestock producers.
During a presentation at the annual American Farm Bureau Federation meeting, Anderson said corn plantings were likely to match the 97 million acres of 2012 and yields could run around 150 bushels an acre. With an average amount of abandonment, that would bring a crop of 13.4 billion bushels, topping the record of 13.092 billion bushels in 2009.
Large plantings allow a record crop even with below-average yields, said Anderson -- “It just doesn’t have to be as awful as last year.” The 2012 crop averaged 123.4 bushels an acre.
U.S. corn and soybean production as fallen for three years in a row with harsh weather pulling down yields. Drought persists in the Plains and western Corn Belt although rainfall levels in the eastern Corn Belt are improving.
On Sunday, Chad Hart, an Iowa State University agricultural economist, said corn, soybean and wheat yields “will likely remain below trend line in 2013” but production totals could “bump up.” He did not suggest harvest size.
Demand for U.S. meat will be stable to growing this year, with beef output falling and production of poultry and pork rising, said Anderson. Pork exports are booming.
“I think it certainly could happen,” Anderson told reporters, for pork output to exceed beef in 2014. “They’re very close at that point.”
Beef production may begin to rise in 2015, he said, responding to high market prices.
The U.S. Agriculture Department projects a decline in beef production while pork increases this year to within 6 percent of beef’s total -- 24.8 billion lbs for beef vs 23.3 billion for pork. Poultry was forecast at 43.3 billion lbs in a USDA report last week.