Corn and soybean plantings by U.S. farmers are sure to surge this spring, according to USDA and private analysts, but the coronavirus pandemic is creating uncertainty about whether there will be enough buyers for a bumper crops this fall. The economic slowdown is likely to reduce demand for corn ethanol, hitting corn growers in the wallet, but the alternative crop for many farmers, soybeans, faces a glut of its own.
The "phase one" trade agreement with Beijing will bring larger U.S. plantings of soybeans and cotton this spring than now projected by USDA, as growers aim for revived exports to China, analysts said over the weekend. China is the world's largest importer of the commodities but U.S. ag exports to China were halved by the tit-for-tat tariffs of the Sino-U.S. trade war.
Almost unnoticed, the USDA has shifted to an earlier reference point for an arcane but important document that helps shape the federal budget and provides a first look at the likely size of next year's crops. The change creates "additional uncertainties," said chief economist Robert Johansson on Monday, but the overall reliability of the 10-year agricultural baseline should be little affected.
The U.S. corn stockpile is the smallest in three years and a comparatively small crop, delayed by the rainiest spring in a quarter-century, is slow to come to harvest this year, the government said in a pair of reports on Monday. The soybean stockpile also is markedly smaller than expected, although it is still the largest on record.
U.S. farmers will harvest their smallest corn and soybean crops since 2013, but the trade war will constrain exports of America’s two major crops for the second year in a row, forecast the USDA on Monday. Soybeans would sell at the lowest average price at the farm gate in 13 years.
Based on surveys conducted ahead of USDA reports due for release today, analysts say corn plantings will total 86.7 to 87 million acres after a rainy and cold spring. That would be well below the 92.8 million acres that farmers had planned to seed.
The USDA took a 9 percent whack out of its projected U.S. corn harvest last week and economist David Widmar said on Monday that more adjustments will be forthcoming due to a remarkably rainy and prolonged planting season in the Farm Belt. "The implications of the slow, wet spring will take a while to be fully realized," wrote Widmar at the Agricultural Economic Insights blog.
The United States could be headed for its smallest corn crop – 13 billion bushels – since the scorching 2012 drought, according to estimates circulated ahead of USDA projections due today at noon ET. One of every six acres intended for corn, or 15.7 million acres, is yet to be planted because of a cold and persistently rainy spring, and yields per acre drop precipitously for late-planted corn.
Corn and soybean planting is running roughly 30 percentage points behind normal in a cold and rainy spring, said the weekly Crop Progress report on Monday. "Delayed planting has set the stage for potential corn yield reductions at the national level," but not guaranteed them, wrote economist David Widmar in a blog about the implications of one of the five slowest corn planting seasons on record.