US farmers 'to break corn planting record'

US farmers may end up achieving record-fast corn plantings this week thanks to a break in the rains which have dramatically slowed sowings seeding an area potentially twice the size of Austria.

Investor estimates - which early in the week centred around farmers lifting corn sowings to about 60% completion by Sunday, from 28% the week before have increased as the weather has turned out drier this week than many had expected.

Now "early planting progress estimates are as high as 70%", one US broker said.

At Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Luke Mathews said: "Producers are frantically trying to close the current seeding deficit.

"There is some talk within the market that planting area could rise to 70% next week."

At Minneapolis-based Benson Quinn Commodities, Ben Bradbury said: "Estimates on expected corn planting range from 50-70% planted versus 28% a week ago. "

'Surpass the record'

Sowings on this scale would, in terms of percentage crop sown, end up at the largest on record in a week.

"[They would] surpass the largest single week advance on record of 28% recorded in 2011," Mr Bradbury said.

In acreage terms, plantings at this level may break the record even more convincingly. Farmers intended to sow 97.3m acres with corn this year, compared with 91.9m acres planted in 2011.

Getting sowings to 70% would, in implying 42% of acres seeded this week, mean that they had planted an area nearly half the size of the UK or, in US state terms, an area nearly as big as Florida.

Many observers, including Chris Richards, chairman of agrichemicals giant Arysta LifeScience, have flagged the potential for a faster planting pace thanks to farmer investment in cutting-edge machinery.

'Unrealistic expectation'

However, there is yet the potential for the return of rains to put planters back in the barn.

While scattered showers through Saturday across much of the Corn Belt are not expected to slow farmers too much "heavier rains are being called for Saturday through Monday along the western Corn Belt and into Wednesday along the eastern portion", Mr Bradbury said.

"This event will be closely watched."

And CBA's Luke Mathews voiced scepticism over the 70% figure, saying that "in our opinion, planting more than 40% of the crop in just one week is an unrealistic expectation. 

"A more likely expectation is 55-65% complete," a range which would still likely the record broken.

Still behind average

However, even a 70% figure would not be enough for farmers to catch up completely with the typical pace of plantings, which is more like 80% for corn by this time of year.

With the ideal planting window now closed, that means a larger-than-normal proportion of the US crop risks suffering some sort of yield penalty for late seedings, a threat reflected in US Department of Agriculture crop estimates a week ago.

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