"I'm a short-term bear, long-term bull," Chad Hart told an overflow crowd at Friday's Crop Fair at the Comfort Suites Hotel & Conference Center in Burlington.

Hart, an associate professor of economics at Iowa State University, offered an hour-long presentation on how he sees the grain market in the United States over the next several years.

"For the next three to five years, I look for us to struggle," he said.

Despite droughts in the Midwest the past two years, the U.S. has managed to harvest record corn and soybean crops, which has brought about good and bad situations involving grain.

When corn hit $7 and soybeans hit $16 in August 2012, farmers looked to put more acres into production, tearing out fence rows and starting to till waterways and Conservation Reserve Program ground. Those extra acres have increased production, built up supply and thus lowered corn to $4 and soybeans to below $13.

"We have seen the ethanol industry rebound when we got to $4 corn," Hart said. "Ethanol really has become cost competitive."

When corn reached $7, ethanol plants pulled back production by 10 to 20 percent, Hart said.

"It is a mature, stabilizing industry," he said of ethanol.

But since Congress reduced production levels of the Renewable Fuel Standard this year, the ethanol industry could be challenged. Congress has asked for a reduction in the number of biofuels, which includes ethanol.

"Growth in the ethanol industry will have to look to exports," Hart said. "That is one area where we can compete."

The problem with current grain prices is farmers could be looking at several years where they hope to break even. With corn futures in the $4 range for 2014 through 2016, farmers in southeast Iowa and west-central Illinois could be fighting to make a profit. The same is true for soybeans, with the cost of production around $11, and futures looking to be about $12.50 in 2014 but under $11 for 2015 and 2016.

Grain prices won't go back up until farmers start taking some of their extra acreage out of production, Hart said. The USDA report for 2014 has U.S. farmers planting 90 million acres of corn and 80 million acres of soybeans. The USDA is projecting a corn crop of 14 billion bushels.

Hart said there is some movement by farmers to return land to the Conservation Reserve Program.

Lower grain prices are a welcome sight for those farmers raising cattle, hogs and poultry. The country has seen a slight increase in feed demand because of corn prices.

"We have the smallest cattle herd since the 1950s," Hart said.

For feed demand to increase further, Hart said it will take some time to build cattle herds back up in the region.

Pork production recently expanded 3 percent, largely due to lower feed prices.

Where U.S. grain is finding a tough go is in the export market, with increased competition from China and South America.

"China set a record in corn production," Hart said. "They were a big buyer of U.S. corn. In recent weeks, they rejected some loads."

Due to high hog production in China, Hart said, "Eventually they will have to come to us for corn."

The corn crop in Argentina appears to be down a little this year, while Brazil's is up a bit.

On the soybean side, Argentina's crop is flat, while Brazil's production levels are closing in on the United States.

"South American crops will affect the U.S. markets," Hart said. "Brazil is right on our heels in production."

China buys 64 percent of the U.S.'s soybean exports.

"Soybean exports are up over the last two years," Hart said. "We could be at a record export level in two weeks."

The 2014 Crop Fair, sponsored by Iowa State University Extension and Merschman Seeds, involved several speakers in the morning and a variety of workshops in the afternoon. Crop weather, herbicide resistance and soil erosion were a few of the topics covered Friday.