By Karl Plume
CHICAGO, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Corn harvesting in parts of the western U.S. Midwest is starting sooner than normal after a recent stretch of hot, dry weather sped the crop to maturity, analysts and agronomists said on Wednesday.
The crop's rapid finish may lower crop quality or reduce grain yields in the main growing areas because more weather-shrunken kernels are needed to fill each bushel, they said. Some farmers with lower quality corn may have to sell it at a discount.
"When you have a hot, fast dry-down, you're just sucking the moisture out of the crop and there go your kernels," said Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa.
Lower crop yields in the heart of the Midwest would decrease the harvest, although a sharp jump in planted acres this year may still result in the second or third largest U.S. crop on record.
In a weekly report late on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said 18% of the U.S. corn crop was mature as of Sept. 3, compared with the 10-year average of 13%.
In top producer Iowa, 17% of the crop was mature as of Sept. 3, up from 10% mature at the same time last year and the most since 2012, according to the USDA.
"Northeast Iowa and down in southeast Iowa were some of the areas worst hit by drought. That's where we are seeing corn getting harvested today," said Mark Licht, extension agronomist at Iowa State University.
The start of Iowa's corn harvest is about a week to 10 days earlier than normal, he said.
Grain buyers will be closely monitoring crop quality attributes such as test weight as grain is delivered to Midwest elevators and processors over the coming weeks.
Light test weight grain is often discounted upon delivery, and crops that dry down too quickly are more susceptible to molding in storage, Licht said.
(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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