U.S. farmers to plant fewer corn, soy acres than expected: USDA

Source: By Karl Plume, Tom Polansek and Julie Ingwersen, Reuters • Posted: Thursday, April 1, 2021

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s forecasts for corn and soybean plantings on Wednesday fell below analyst expectations, sending futures prices for both commodities up by their daily limits.Smaller-than-expected plantings of the two main cash crops in the United States would heighten concerns about global food and animal feed supplies after importers and domestic processors loaded up on grain and oilseeds earlier this year. The United States is the world’s biggest corn exporter and the No. 2 soybean supplier.

With soybean prices hovering around a 6-1/2 year high and corn prices the highest in some 7-1/2 years, analysts had expected record combined acreage of both crops.

Farmers plan to sow 91.144 million acres (36.885 million hectares) with corn this year, the most since 2016, and 87.600 million acres with soybeans, the most since 2018, USDA said in its first official, survey-based look at 2021 U.S. crop area.

However, both figures fell below nearly all the estimates in a Reuters poll of analysts.

Some analysts expressed disbelief at the USDA forecasts, noting growers had strong incentives to expand acreage after struggling with the U.S.-China trade war and low crop prices in recent years.

U.S. soybean stocks are projected to shrink to a mere 9-1/2 days’ supply ahead of the next harvest, according to the latest USDA forecast, while end-of-season corn supplies were seen at a seven-year low.

“We just can’t afford that bean acreage number,” said Jim Gerlach, president of U.S. broker A/C Trading. “We’ve got to pull some acres out of a hat somewhere.”

Analysts had been expecting the report to show that farmers intended to plant 93.208 million acres of corn and 89.996 million acres of soybeans, according to the average of estimates gathered in a Reuters poll.

American Soybean Association economist Scott Gerlt said the USDA’s March planting intentions report has a good track record in terms of predicting final acreage. However, he said of Wednesday’s report, “This could easily be an intentions report that has a higher than normal error.”

Wheat planting intentions topped expectations at 46.358 million acres, above a trade estimate of 44.971 million acres and up from 44.3 million acres last year, mostly due to an expansion of winter wheat seedings.

The USDA will release its first production estimates for the 2021 crops on May 12. The USDA is scheduled to release revised acreage estimates on June 30, once planting is mostly complete.

In a separate report Wednesday on quarterly grains stocks, USDA said soybean stocks as of March 1 thinned to the lowest level in five years while corn stocks hit a seven-year low. The agency polled about 8,300 commercial grain facilities about 78,900 farmers in its final look at U.S. grain supplies before planting begins in a few weeks.

On- and off-farm soybean stocks were estimated at 1.564 billion bushels as of March 1, down from 2.255 billion at the same point last year, the USDA said. Corn stocks were pegged at 7.701 billion bushels, down from 7.952 billion a year earlier.

Analysts surveyed ahead of the report expected soybean stocks, on average, at 1.534 billion bushels and corn stocks at 7.767 billion bushels.

Despite the tight soybean stocks, some farmers told Reuters they were opting for corn this season, citing the importance of crop rotations to maintain long-term soil health, strong export demand and an improved outlook for corn-based biofuel.

Reporting by Karl Plume, Tom Polansek and Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer; and Marguerita Choy