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Investors start cutting US corn planting forecasts

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Investors have begun downgrading ideas for US corn sowings from the highest levels since the 1930s – although not all because of the wet and cold weather which has got plantings off to one of the slowest paces on record.

Dustin Johnson at EHedger, which is poised later on Thursday to reveal updated sowings forecasts, told Agrimoney.com that he was working on an idea of some 2m acres switching from corn to soybeans because of the hurdles that wet and cold weather has presented to sowings.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, which in March said that farmers intend to plant 97.3m acres with corn, they had sown just 5% as of Sunday, down from an average of 31% by then.

The poor weather continued on Thursday, when a band of snow pushed through from Colorado, where Denver has received 19 inches in two days, through Nebraska and Iowa to Minnesota.

In snowbound Iowa, the top corn-growing state, Mike Mawdsley at broker Market 1, wishing Agrimoney.com "merry Christmas", said that "nothing will happen here until next week" in terms of plantings in his area.

In Chicago, Richard Feltes at broker RJ O'Brien said that the next weekly USDA corn planting figure, as of next Sunday, was "unlikely to exceed 15% versus 71% last year, 50% average, and a record low of 14% in 1993".

Machinery lies idle

At Soybean and Corn Advisor, Michael Cordonnier said that farmers may not be able to plant 1m-3m acres of intended corn area because of the poor weather, noting the results of a crop tour through Indiana and Ohio on Wednesday which had revealed just three farmers undertaking fieldwork.

"In Ohio, we did not see any tractors in the field, although with temperatures in the 80s Fahrenheit field will dry out, and maybe they will get some work done today or tomorrow," he told Agrimoney.com.

However, a bigger risk to acreage ideas came from north and south of the Midwest, with some 200,000-300,000 acres likely to go in the Mississippi Delta states.

"Their prevent plant dates have come and gone," limiting farmers' ability to claim insurance on corn sown from hereon, while opening up the potential for claims on abandoned areas.

Northern concerns

To the north, North Dakota, where farmers told the USDA in March they wanted to sow 4.1m acres with corn, they could lose some 500,000-1m acres of that, thanks to the setbacks from snow and then flooding from snow melt.

"In low areas, saturated fields are going to take some while to dry out," Mr Cordonnier said, noting that, with North Dakota planting just 2.2m acres with corn two seasons ago, many farmers "are first time guys", inexperienced with corn.

And relatively early prevent plant dates in the northern US - of late May, because of the shorter growing season - left farmers with little leeway to delay sowings, of which none had been completed by Sunday, for much longer.

'Not panicked'

At Chicago-based Linn Group, vice-president Roy Huckabay said that he was now pencilling in corn sowings of some 95m acres – despite being relatively relaxed over the slow pace of sowings.

"The farming community has not panicked at all over the slow pace of planting," he said.

"Because of the dry autumn a lot of fieldwork has already been done, meaning they only have a run over with a planter and a harrow to get the crop in."

And with high prices and insurance payouts making up for last year's poor yields, many farmers have invested in upgraded machinery, raising their "comfort level" over delays.

"Instead of have a 24-row planter, they can now run a 36-row planter."

His primary reason for downgrading acreage numbers was because of price signals, with a rise in cotton values this year meaning it "has brought some acreage back".

There has been "a lot of interest" in sorghum too, of which prices have been supported by tight corn supplies and a disappointing crop in Australia, the third-ranked exporting country.

Slow development

His greater concern for the impact of poor weather on corn was on the influence that the cool weather was having on slowing crop development.

"What you need ideally is 60-degree-Fahrenheit nights and 80-degree days," when corn can emerge in a few days.

"At the moment, it is taking corn 10 days to geminate, and not growing very much in the next five-to-six weeks."

And for Michael Cordonnier too, perhaps the bigger issue was not the dent to area from North Dakota, which achieved below-average corn yields, but what happens in more productive states such as Iowa – how much is planted there in the ideal sowing window, and what weather it receives from thereon.

The big hurdle

Richard Feltes said: "The market is leaning that way," towards cutting acreage numbers.

"But it does not think that is really the most important factor.

"What is more significant is what happens in July and August," when corn reaches pollination, and weather can wreak havoc with yields, as it did last year.

By Mike Verdin

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