US corn sowings soar, but wheat seedings still lag

US farmers got back on track with corn sowings - just in time to avoid yield penalties - by planting an area as big as Denmark and Sri Lanka combined in one week - but cold and wet weather continued to slow spring wheat seedings.

US growers sowed 30% of their corn crop in the week to Sunday, equivalent to some 27.5m acres (11.3m hectares), the US Department of Agriculture said.

The progress took seedings to 59% complete, 1 point ahead of the average, meaning farmers had more than caught up with the typical pace sowings after an unusually slow start to plantings.

The jump in sowings came just in time to underpin crop hopes, with mid-May typically seen as the deadline which US corn should be seeded by, before yield potential is curtailed, with penalties of 1-1.5 bushels per acre per day of delay after mid-May often quoted.

'Surge in field activity'

The acceleration was led by Iowa, the top corn and soybean growing state, where growers planted 47% of their corn in one week, equivalent to about 6.6m hectares, an area bigger than that of Israel.

USDA scouts flagged "optimal conditions" for Iowa plantings, with temperatures "above normal for the week, while average precipitation was below normal".

However, significant progress was also seen in neighbouring Illinois, the second-ranked corn growing state, where growers seeded 35% of their corn as "producers spent long days in the field making up for time lost due to the previous week's wet conditions".

Elsewhere in the Corn Belt, in Indiana, "warm and dry weather for the majority of the state saw a surge in field activity and planting", with farmers completing 41% of sowings.

'Cool, wet weather'

However, sowings remained well behind normal in northern areas of the Midwest, including in Minnesota, where growers are, with 23% of corn in the ground, 31 points behind the typical pace.

"More progress was made on sandier soils, before planting was once again halted by rains late in the week," USDA scouts in the state said.

In Michigan - where seedings are 21 points behind average, at 17% complete -"drier and warmer conditions allowed farmers to make progress with planting, but most crops still lag behind the five-year average," scouts said.

North Dakota, "cool, wet weather continued across the state last week which delayed fieldwork even further".

"Average temperatures were 4-8 degrees Fahrenheit below normal over much of the state, with soil temperatures ranging from 38-45 degrees," below the 50 degrees many consider necessary to germinate corn.

At Benson Quinn Commodities, Brian Henry said that there were "certainly some haves and have-nots" among growing states, with the "traditional corn-growing regions well ahead of the pace, while the northern tier shows little progress".

'Heat and high winds'

Indeed, the poor weather in the northern Plains succeeded in maintaining delays in sowings of spring wheat, for which the region is the top growing area.

Just 34% of spring wheat was seeded by Sunday, up eight points week on week, but 19 points behind the average.

In Minnesota, completed plantings, at 8%, are 45 points behind the typical pace.

And as an extra setback to US wheat hopes, the USDA cut further its rating for the condition of crops in hard red winter wheat states in the southern Plains.

The proportion of winter wheat in Kansas, the top US growing state for the grain, rated in good or excellent health dropped by four points week on week to just 14% rated good or excellent.

"Heat and high winds caused further deterioration of the Kansas wheat crop," the USDA said.

While "isolated areas of the state received rain late Sunday with some reports of hail and flash flooding", the showers "were not enough to relieve drought conditions".

'Recalibrate their ideas'

The corn sowings figure, while broadly in line with market expectations, provoked ideas of weaker prices ahead, with the need reduced for a risk premium to account for planting delays.

"While it will take time to get the tail end of the crop planted, I expect the funds to recalibrate their ideas of owning corn given the progress that has been made and the start that two-thirds of the crop will get," Benson Quinn Commodities' Brian Henry said.

However, wheat was seen as retaining better a case for elevated prices.

"I view Monday's updates as negative for row crops and positive for wheat," said Richard Feltes at Chicago-based broker RJ O'Brien.

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