US crop sowings estimate '1m-2m acres too small'

The official estimate for US crop sowings may be too low, despite the threat from cold and wet Midwest weather, Michael Cordonnier said, reopening a longstanding debate ahead of a much-watched report.

Mr Cordonnier, a respected crop scout, said that the US Department of Agriculture's estimate for the "total acreage pie" in the US this year "may be 1m-2m acres too small".

The comment comes despite USDA data late on Monday which showed domestic farmers behind in sowings of major crops, from sugar beet to oats, by more than 20m acres, an area the size of Austria, or the US state of North Carolina.

Plantings have been delayed by wet and cold weather, particularly in the western Corn Belt, including in Iowa, the top corn and soybean producing states, and in northern areas.

'Soil temperatures will warm quickly'

However, "for now, it doesn't look as bad as last year," when the US suffered a historically late planting period, with sowings for most crops lagging even further behind the average pace than this time.

"If farmers make as much progress as expected this week, the corn could be 50% planted" by the time of next Monday's weekly US update, compared with 29% this time, which was 13 points behind the typical pace.

"I am not overly concerned about the delayed corn planting in the central Corn Belt because now that the calendar has turned to May, all the farmers in the central Corn Belt will plant their corn as quickly as possible as soon as the conditions are dry enough to get in the fields," Dr Cordonnier said.

"Soil temperatures will warm quickly with the higher sun angle, in addition to the warmer southerly winds expected this week."

Extra plantings

He acknowledged a threat to sowings in northern areas, where some farmers are said to be accepting a hit to yield potential switching to earlier-maturing varieties of corn, anticipating late seedings and a shorter growing season, and others may turn to other crops entirely, or abandon fields.

"Some of the intended corn acreage in the north western Corn Belt may not get planted, maybe 500,000 acres, but that may be compensated for by more corn being planted elsewhere, maybe 1.0m acres," he said, implying US corn area of 92.2m acres this year.

For soybeans, which can be later seeded than corn, and so for which the delayed start is not so significant, seedings may come in 1.0m acres above the USDA estimate of 81.49m acres.

Missing acres?

The comments two days ahead of the USDA's monthly Wasde report, which will include the first full balance sheet estimates for world crops in 2014-15.

And it reopens a debate after the department in March estimated overall area of major crops, from barley to edible beans, at 325.9m acres.

That represented a rise of only 1.1m acres year on year, despite the especially poor sowing conditions meaning that an unusually large 8.3m acres went unseeded, as measured by so-called "prevent plant" insurance data.

The average prevent plant for the previous five years was 4.7m acres.

Extra acreage this year is expected to come from emergence of 1.7m acres from the US conservation programme.

'Room for an upgrade'

"There does indeed appear to be some room for the acreage estimates for principal crops to exceed this year's estimate of planting intentions," University of Illinois agricultural academics said, after analysis of the data.

However, the USDA is not expected, in the Wasde, to alter its sowings figures.

Dr Cordonnier said the amount of sowings lost to the poor weather, and claimed on prevent plant insurance, would not become clear until "later in June".

At Illinois-based consultancy Agrivisor, Dale Durchholz responded by saying that "I could see total acres 3m-4m acres larger.

"The key lies with how planting goes in May, and the amount put in prevent plant."

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