US corn sowings 'far lower than report will show'

The accuracy of a much-anticipated official report on US crop sowings is being questioned before it has even been released, with ideas that it will fail to pick-up on setbacks from heavy rains and flooding.

The US Department of Agriculture will on Monday release estimates of US plantings expected to show corn sowings at 91.725m acres, 34,000 acres more than farmers said in March that they intended to plant.

At worst, the figure is expected to show corn area at 91.0m acres, which would represent a downgrade of some 690,000 acres.

However, actual plantings could turn out far lower, according to a survey by broker Roach Ag Marketing, which claimed "very good accuracy" on its results last year.

'Unseasonably cold temperatures, heavy rains…'

The survey, of 2,800 farmers in 11 states, showed corn sowings of 89.31m acres, the first drop in seedings below 90m acres since 2010, and implying that Monday's figure should show a downgrade of 2.39m acres.

The weak survey finding reflects "unseasonably cold temperatures, and heavy rainfall in states were expected to increase corn acres the most", Roach Ag president Brian Roach said.

Some 80% of the acreage losses were in five northerly states – Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin – where farmers noted "extended planting delays" thanks to poor weather.

However, Roach said that it did not expect the USDA in Monday's report "to reduce their corn plantings nearly as much as our survey reported".

Last year, which brought the US an unusually wet spring, the USDA, which has a reputation for being conservative in estimate changes, was "very slow in reducing their estimate of corn plantings".

Corn seeded area last year turned out 2m acres lower than the USDA's June estimate.

'Casting a shadow'

Illinois-based Michael Cordonnier, the respected crop scout, warned that the "ponding and localised flooding caused by the recent heavy rains is now casting a shadow" over Monday's acreage report.

"The survey for the report was conducted in early June before the heavy rains moved into the north western Corn Belt," meaning that sowings missed because of the saturated conditions "probably will not be accounted for" on Monday.

"It is likely that the eventual harvested acreage for both corn and soybeans will end up lower that what will be reported in the June planted report," Dr Cordonnier said.

The USDA data will be based on a survey conducted from May 29 to June 15, with the Roach survey running from June 19 to June 23.

Timing issue

However, there is some dispute over whether lost acres should count in the sowings line, or as having been abandoned – in essence damaged after planting.

Last year, while the corn plantings figure suffered a series of downgrades from June, the abandonment rate decreased.

"The above-normal loss of 2014 US corn and soybean area from flooding should be reflected in higher abandonment – not in fewer planted acres as occurred last year," Richard Feltes at broker RJ O'Brien said.

Dr Cordonnier has suggested that the recent rain damage has cost some 1m-2m acres, in harvested terms, for corn and soybeans combined.

Soybean plantings

The soybean sowings figure is viewed as less prone to downgrades thanks to the oilseed's slightly later planting window than corn.

While rains will have prevented some soybean sowings, area will also have received a boost from planting delays prompting farmers to switch to the oilseed from corn.

The Roach survey showed soybean plantings at 81.60m acres, 105,000 acres more than the USDA's March survey showed.

Investors expect Monday's report to show soybean seedings of 82.15m acres.

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