March 31, 2016 / 7:57 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. farmers' acreage plans not set in stone as corn price drops

WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) - U.S. farmers could plant more soybean acres than suggested in the government’s acreage forecast issued on Thursday as recent gains in the futures market tempted them to alter their corn-heavy seeding plans, growers and analysts said.

The U.S. Agriculture Department report showed farmers intend to plant 93.601 million acres of corn this spring, the third most since 1944. That forecast raised the prospect of adding more supplies to an already huge stockpile, sending corn prices into a tailspin and causing growers to question their seeding choices.

“That might make a difference,” said Art Bunting, a farmer in Illinois who had planned on devoting 60 percent of his acres to corn and 40 percent to soybeans. “We might have to re-think what we are going to do. It might change some minds.”

Bunting said the sell-off made him consider switching two of his 80-acre fields to soybeans from corn.

The USDA’s prospective plantings report, which also forecast soybean acreage dipping 0.5 percent to 82.236 million acres, surveys farmers during the first two weeks of March. That leaves most growers with a month before they begin to put seeds in the ground.

Chicago Board of Trade November soybean futures, which track the crop that farmers will plant in the weeks ahead, rose 1.9 percent during the last two weeks of March, piquing farmers’ interest after they finished their acreage surveys for the government. That compares with a 4.9 percent drop in the CBOT December corn contract.

But a March soy rally has not always enticed farmers to boost their soybean acreage.

During the last 40 years, when soybean prices have posted gains that outperformed corn over the last two weeks of March, final soybean acreage has fallen an average of 615,615 acres from the USDA’s prospective plantings forecast.

In the years when soybeans have posted last-half March gains greater than this year’s rally, soy acreage has declined an average of 377,462 acres from the USDA’s outlook.

This year might be different, as the weak price environment has farmers facing steep losses for the crops they have yet to plant. Amid the poor profit prospects, many growers have delayed fertilizing their designated corn fields in a bid to cut costs.

“Going forward, that corn number is going to change,” said Brian Hoops, analyst at Midwest Market Solutions. “I just got off the phone with an Iowa farmer. He and his brother don’t have any anhydrous (fertilizer applied ahead of corn planting) down and are definitely looking to switch to soybeans.” (Additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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