By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. farmers intend to plant 97.3 million acres of corn in 2013, up a bit from last year, according to the USDA’s annual Prospective Plantings report. Soybeans are projected at 77.1 million acres, a slight decrease from 2012.
Meanwhile, in its monthly Grain Stocks update, the USDA said corn stocks as of March 1 totaled 5.4 billion bushels, down 10 percent from a year ago. Soybean stocks, at 999 million bushels, were down 27 percent from March 1, 2012.
This projected corn acreage would be the highest since 1936, when approximately 102 million acres were planted, the USDA said. Soybean acreage would be the fourth highest on record. Last year, farmers planted 97.2 million acres of corn and 77.2 million of soybeans.
Farmers nationwide are also producing 56.4 million acres of wheat this year, up from last year’s 55.7 million. All wheat stocks totaled 1.23 billion bushels, up 3 percent from a year ago.
Both reports from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service were released March 28.
“The profit of corn was just too hard for producers to pass up,” said Brian Basting, of Advance Trading. “A lot of those decisions (to plant corn) were made last summer and fall when it was the most profitable crop out there. Producers then committed to plant corn.”
Some analysts had predicted an increase in soybean acreage, with Allendale, Inc. projecting about 1.2 million more acres would be planted this year than last.
“The net message on corn and beans is that we will have adequate acreage lined up here,” said Rich Nelson, chief strategist with Allendale. “These reports are just a very first starting point. The market is grappling with how much will get planted.
“The market is interested in what’s planted, and then emergence and growing development. The market will keep an eye on this.”
Analysts said they don’t expect last year’s early and fast planting season to be repeated this year.
“This year looks completely different than last year, weather-wise,” Basting noted. “Some areas are dealing with snow pack and the possibility of flooding this spring. Spring weather now takes center stage. Things will be slower than last year.”
Soil temperatures in Illinois, at 4 inches under bare soil, are running in the 30s, Nelson said. Temperatures should be in the 50s for planting. April’s temperatures are expected to be at or above normal for most of the month, despite a cold start, he added.
Last year’s drought conditions are improving in some areas of the country, especially in the Eastern Corn Belt, said Corey Cherr, product manager in agriculture research for Thomson Reuters Lanworth.
There is still low moisture in the Western Corn Belt and the upper Midwest, he noted. The situation is a bit better in the central Corn Belt and much better in the eastern part, he added.
“We’re likely to be relatively warm and see some losses,” Cherr explained. “You’d have to see consistently low precipitation in that June through August period to really see yields tank again like they did this past year. The probability of that is about 10 to 15 percent. It’s not the most likely scenario, but it’s a little bit elevated compared to what it would normally be.”
Numbers listed in the Prospective Plantings report aren’t written in stone, as final amounts are often off from those initially projected, said Gavin Maguire, agriculture markets columnist for Thomson Reuters.
“There’s always a big swing between what we intend to plant and what we end up planting,” he said. “The report is only useful as long as it’s taken into context that it doesn’t always mean what you think it means.”
The March 1 quarterly corn stocks number of 5.4 billion bushels was higher than anticipated by analysts, who had projected figures in the 5 billion-5.1 billion range, Nelson noted. The soybean stocks number, at 999 million, was also more than the trade estimate of 935 million.
The report may have caught some in the market by surprise, said Chris Hurt, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University. “The perception was that inventories were extremely short because of the drought and that we would struggle to have enough corn and soybeans to make it through the summer,” he said.
“The markets will be looking at other factors in the coming days and watching to see if more corn becomes available in the marketplace. Right now we are seeing strong basis levels, and that indicates there’s still a shortage.”
This isn’t the first time stocks reports have not gone as the market anticipated, noted Basting.
“Stocks numbers have been a challenge for anyone trying to analyze the market for the last five years,” he said. “They’ve thrown curveballs both ways in the past. I’m not the only one scratching my head this morning.”
State-by-state planting numbers
The USDA stated record high corn acreage is projected in Arizona, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota and Oregon. Slightly less planted acreage is expected in the Corn Belt.
Corn acreage is expected to be 12.2 million acres in Illinois, down from 12.8 million planted last year. For Indiana, 6.1 million acres are projected, down from 6.25 million; Iowa, 14.2 million, unchanged from last year; Kentucky, 1.6 million, down from 1.65 million; Michigan, 2.6 million, down from 2.65 million; Ohio, 3.95 million, up from 3.9 million; and Tennessee, 970,000, down from 1 million.
Soybean acreage is expected to be down across all of the Great Plains except in North Dakota, the USDA said. Increases are expected across most of the Eastern Corn Belt and parts of the Southeast. The planted area in New York, North Dakota and Pennsylvania could be the largest on record if the projections are realized, the agency stated.
In Illinois, soybean acreage is projected at 9.4 million acres, up from 9.05 million last year; in Indiana, 5.1 million, down from 5.15 million; Iowa, 9.4 million, up from 9.35 million; Kentucky, 1.5 million, up from 1.48 million; Michigan, 2.1 million, up from 2 million; Ohio, 4.65 million, up from 4.6 million; and Tennessee, 1.36 million, up from 1.26 million.
For winter wheat, Illinois has planted 830,000 acres, up from 660,000 last year. Indiana, 470,000, up from 350,000; Iowa, 40,000, up from 18,000; Kentucky, 680,000, up from 580,000; Michigan, 590,000, up from 570,000; Ohio, 630,000, up from 500,000; and Tennessee, 550,000, up from 420,000.
Data for the Prospective Plantings report are based on surveys done during the first two weeks of March from a sample of more than 83,500 U.S. farmers, according to the USDA.