Cotton, wheat lose out in SA rush to sow soybeans

Data from major South American farm operators has signalled a rise in soybean plantings at least as large as the 8-10% for Brazil, and 6% or so for Argentina, that analysts have suggested, with cotton and wheat among crops in the firing line.

BrasilAgro revealed it has allocated 54,464 hectares to soybean sowings this year, a rise of 12,150 hectares, or 29%, on last year's area.

The extra plantings are being enabled in part by clearing scrub for arable land, but also by ditching cotton and rice, and cutting back on main-crop corn too.

The group, which aims to sow 81,630 hectares at its seven arable farms in four states, envisages a 73% rise to more than 4,000 hectares in its plantings of second-crop corn, which is sown on land vacated by the soybean harvest.

Soybeans vs cotton

SLC Agricola, which expects to plant more than 280,000 hectares, said that it would plant 150,000 hectares of that with soybeans, a rise of 32%.

Again, while partly enabled by extra land, the extra area will also come at the expense of cotton, whose appeal to growers has slumped with a drop in prices to one-third of record levels early in 2011.

SLC Agricola, which had already planted half its soybeans as of last week, also envisages a rise in second-crop corn, by 49% to more than 33,000 hectares.

'Maximize returns'

Adecoagro, the farm operator with land in three countries, but whose grain and oilseed operations are undertaken in the main in Argentina, failed to give an estimate for its soybean sowings, which it has yet to begin.

But it hinted at a far greater area, at least for first crop soybeans, than the 50,720 hectares sown last year.

The group, which counts a fund overseen by noted investor George Soros as its top shareholder, said it was cutting wheat area by 34% to 28,398 hectares "in favour of an increase in soybean first-crop area, in order to maximize returns per hectare".

Returns from growing main crop soybeans were expected to be higher than growing wheat plus a follow-on crop of soybeans.

Adecoagro's second crop soybeans typically yield some one-third less than main crop.

Profit potential

The decisions reflect the greater profits to be obtained in 2012-13 from soybeans, which tends anyway to be the default choice of South American farmers, but whose attractions have been boosted by prices which remain at elevated levels, if down more than 20% in Chicago from September's record high.

Argentine soybean sowings are expected by US Department of Agriculture staff and by the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange to rise by some 6% this year, to 19.7m hectares.

Brazilian seedings are seen by Celeres at 27.4m hectares, a rise of 8.4%, and by the USDA at 27.5m hectares, a 10% increase.

Research by farm officials in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul shows that producers can expect to turn a profit of 72% on their soybeans, compared with 25% on corn.

"International soybean prices have slumped recently, but soybean producers in the state have already contracted 30% of the anticipated 2012-13 crop forward, thus locking in profits," South America crop aficionado Michael Cordonnier said.

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