Plans for a Whole Lot of Corn (3/31/16)

Chad Hart, ISU Extension Grain Marketing Economist, provides a summary of the latest USDA reports.

Hart_Chad-thumbThe end of March is an active time for the crop markets and USDA. It’s when we get our first look at the 2016 crop year from the producers’ perspective with the release of USDA’s Prospective Plantings report. We also receive an update on demand via USDA’s Grain Stocks report. And as we typically see, these reports contained a few surprises to mull over as planting approaches, mainly for new crop prospects. Starting with the stocks/demand picture, the trade estimates going into the stocks report were fairly close to the USDA numbers. As of March 1, 7.81 billion bushels of corn were being held in storage. That’s 1% higher than last year at this time. Quarterly corn disappearance for the December-February time frame was 3.43 billion bushels, slightly lower than last year. Overall corn demand and usage has been relatively stable. Soybean stocks came in at 1.5 billion bushels, up 15% from last year. That is the highest soybean stock number for March since the 2006/07 crop. Quarterly soybean disappearance for the December-February time frame was 1.18 billion bushels, 1% lower than last year.  So the build-up of soybean stocks has more to do with supply than demand. In total, old crop usage turned up to be in-line with expectations.

That’s not the case with plantings and the potential for new crop production. The biggest discrepancies between trade expectations and the planting report were for corn and wheat. Projected corn plantings came in at 93.6 million acres. The trade expectation was roughly 90 million. So prospective corn plantings are 3.6 million above expectations and 5.6 million above last year. Meanwhile, projected wheat area dropped to 49.6 million acres, roughly 2 million below expectations and 5 million below last year. Soybean planted area was also down to 82.2 million acres, which was 800,000 less than expectations and 450,000 below last year. Looking at specific state projections, the boost in corn area is coming mostly from the Great Plains and Corn Belt. The largest moves are in Kansas and North Dakota, adding 650,000 acres each, as traditional wheat area heads to corn production. Illinois and Iowa are adding 400,000 corn acres each this year. Out of the 48 states listed in the corn table, only 7 are projected to have fewer corn acres than last year, with the largest reduction being 20,000 acres. The soybean planting story hinges mainly on Missouri. Missouri farmers indicated they would plant nearly one million more acres of soybeans this year, following the planting issues they had last year. Illinois and North Dakota are projected to gain significant soybean area as well.  However, many states (including Iowa) are projected to lower soybean plantings. Iowa and 9 other states are set to reduce soybean plantings by at least 100,000 acres each. Hence, despite the strong surge in area from Missouri, the national soybean planting area is projected to decline.

Given trend yields of 168 bushels per acre for corn and 46.7 bushels per acre for soybeans, the projected acreage points to another round of massive crops. Corn production would reach 14.38 billion bushels, which would be another record corn crop. Soybean production would approach 3.8 billion bushels, which would be the 3rd largest soybean crop in history. And for markets already dealing with large supplies, these prospective plantings do not help. So the markets will be looking for Mother Nature to slow the supply train down.

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