Acre estimate stuns U.S. producers

USDA expects a 91.7 million acre corn crop, but farmers insist it will be more like 86 million because of rain delays

The middle of America should be a dark shade of green.

But this year satellite images of vegetative growth show that states like Illinois, Indiana and South Dakota are more like a lime green.

That’s because incessant rains and an incredible amount of overland flooding delayed planting in the Midwest and surrounding states. Corn and soybeans were seeded weeks later than usual and millions of acres were too wet to plant a crop.

Despite the extraordinary conditions this spring, a report by the United States Department of Agriculture in late June estimated national corn acres at 91.7 million — almost the same as its March number of 92 million.

The USDA pegged soybean acres at 80 million.

A few farm groups aren’t buying the USDA numbers, particularly the estimates for corn.

“Surprised is probably an understatement. Most people expected to see a more significant reduction in acreage,” said John Newton, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). “The thought was we could potentially see as much as six million (corn acres) go into prevent plant…. I think the expectation was around 86 (million).”

The estimates annoyed U.S. farmers because corn futures were rallying in May and June. Prices dropped about 20 cents per bushel, to $4.31 per bu., following the USDA news.

The agency has acknowledged that the June acreage report may need revision. It will re-survey farmers in 14 states, mostly in the Midwest, before its Aug. 12 crop production report.

The farm bureau has already surveyed its members to get an “on the ground” perspective on unseeded acres, and to assess how much corn will be produced for silage and how much for grain.

Reports from South Dakota suggest the USDA numbers could be out of whack.

“It looks like South Dakota will set the record for prevented planting acres by far,” a South Dakota farm bureau representative said in a report posted on the bureau’s website. “It sounds to me that on average the state will only be around 60 percent planted. On our farm, we were right at 50 percent…. There are some areas where you can drive several miles and not see a planted field.”

In other states, such as Indiana, the corn that was planted is weeks behind normal development.

“Corn can be seen in the state just popping out of the ground to knee high,” said a farm bureau member from Indiana. “Anticipated yields at this time will be far less than the 10-year average for farmers.”

The USDA has reduced its yield estimate, for corn, from 176 to 166 bu. per acre. It’s still early to put a number on yield, as weather in July and August will have a huge influence on production this year, Newton said.

“You really don’t have a lot of information to put together a good, national yield projection,” he said. “On a later planted crop, late August and September weather could also impact (yield)…. It’s safe to assume we’re going to have below trend yield, because the crop that was put in the ground has been sitting in pretty sloppy conditions.”

But if the weather is favourable, crops could potentially recover.

“We saw that the last few years, with pretty dry conditions and high temperatures. People thought that could lead to yield declines and what we found was record yields, in some cases,” Newton said. “Early stress, they (crops) can bounce back from that, but this has been a pretty prolonged period of excessive moisture.”

In early July the USDA said prevented planting claims will easily exceed US$1 billion this year and unseeded acreage may reach 10 million.

Over the last decade, prevent plant insurance payments in the U.S. have topped $1 billion several times, exceeding $2 billion in 2011 and 2013, Agri-Pulse, an American agricultural news site, reported.

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