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Slow start to US corn sowings will depress acreage - but by how much?

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The historically slow start to the US corn-sowing season will lead to acreage losses.

 

But just how many?

 

Just half of corn crop had been planted by May 19 – the lowest on record according to statistics from the US Department of Agriculture – a time by which 80% would have been sown on average.

 

And the sowings window is beginning to close in many areas.

 

However, getting a handle on just how many of the 92.8m acres of corn that US growers intended to plant will be abandoned, or switched to other crops, is tricky.

 

Estimates seen by Agrimoney for lost area ranges from some 1m acres to the up to 9.3m acres that Commodity Weather Group has reportedly proposed.

 

The University of Illinois says that “there is a reasonably high chance that planted acreage of corn will decline 2m-3m acres”.

 

It is easy to see the difficulty of making an accurate assessment.

 

Agrimoney has reviewed the changes in corn acreage between that reported in the USDA’s prospective planting reports, in March, which show how much of the grain farmers intend to sow, and the actual sowings data, as revealed at the end of June, after spring sowings have finished.

 

The data show a mixed picture.

 

Change in estimates for acreage sown for corn between March and June
Year % progress March acreage June acreage Change
1995 50 75,323 72,008 -4.40%
1996 61 79,920 80,355 0.54%
2009 68 84,986 87,035 2.41%
2002 70 79,047 78,947 -0.13%
2013 71 97,282 97,379 0.10%

 

During 1995, the slowest corn-planting year in recent history, until 2019, the data show that a late-seeding in March was indeed followed by a fall in estimated planting in June as farmers chose to cut back.

 

However, in 2009, the trend was reversed. Planted area shown in the June report that year was more than 2.0m acres above that proposed in March.

But then, that year Chicago corn futures prices showed a particularly strong reaction to the poor planting pace, rising on a spot contract basis by 25% from an April low to a high in early-June, when sowings are typically close to finishing.

 

In 1995, that gain was only 12.5%, offering less incentive for farmers to keep planters rolling whatever the conditions.

 

Where sowings end up this year too may well be influenced by gains in Chicago corn prices, which are on a spot contract basis thus far some 14% above their April low.

 

Related: How will slow US corn plantings affect final yield?

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