Brazil Chases King Corn's Crown

Katie Micik Dehlinger
By  Katie Micik Dehlinger , Farm Business Editor
(Getty images, Photo illustration by Barry Falkner)

Brazil could win a coveted title this year: the world's largest corn exporter.

The South American nation began shipping corn to China last fall after reaching a deal over phytosanitary standards. Even though shipments to China didn't begin until November, it helped propel Brazil to a record export year.

USDA expects Brazil to beat that record again this year, shipping 50 million metric tons (mmt) of corn to destinations around the world. Analysts expect 6 mmt to 10 mmt of it could go to China.

If that comes true, Brazil will overtake the U.S. as the world's largest corn exporter. But, if the dry season begins early, depriving the safrinha crop of moisture and reducing production, the United States could still claim the title.

The question isn't if the U.S. will lose the crown but when.

USDA's Economic Research Service says Brazil has another 49 million acres of land it can bring into crop production by 2031.

"Soybeans are the primary incentive for that," DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman says. "But, they're double-cropping that with corn."

That means corn production, just like soybean production, keeps climbing a staircase of ever-higher records.

"The safrinha crop is an opportunity for Brazil to double its corn production in the coming years," says Joana Colussi, a member of the University of Illinois farmdoc team and a native of Brazil. She notes there's a part of Brazil that can grow three crops in a season. Even though it currently accounts for less than 2% of the country's corn production, it doesn't mean that's set in stone.

She explains the word safrinha, which is used to describe Brazil's second-crop corn, means little harvest in Portuguese. Twenty years ago, the safrinha crop was just that -- little.

"Today, it represents more than 70% of the corn production in Brazil," she says.

Brazil's corn output this year could come in at nearly 5 billion bushels, roughly a third of U.S. annual production. Brazil may steal the corn export crown in 2023, but it will be a long time before it overtakes the U.S. as the world's largest corn producer. The acreage potential is there, but yield potential depends on genetics and rainfall.


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Katie Dehlinger