The March USDA Planting Intentions report is a valuable tool for producers even if it misses some things, because it gives us early warnings about acreage decisions that might harm us. The June Acreage report is valuable because it trues-up the numbers and tells us what producers decided and what Mother Nature allowed. There are always some surprises in the June 29 reports. Grain Stocks were pretty close to expected levels, leaving acreage as our focus.
At the macro level, prices were high enough for long enough this spring to drag more ground into field crop production. USDA told us that 322.1 million acres (ma) were planted to what they call "principal crops." The last three years, that figure ran from 319.0 ma to 319.2 ma, so we enticed another 3 ma into production.
Did somebody break 3 ma of sod or clear trees? No. Most of that ground likely came from land that was a prevented planting insurance claim last year. The rest (about 872,000 acres) came from a 1% increase in the percent of double-crop soybeans. Double-crop beans are counted twice for acreage, and the 4% in 2017 was the lowest since 2005. We won't get hard numbers on prevented planting until August. You can argue that there might have been more than last year in the Northern Plains, but much of the country was drier (see the weekly Drought Monitor) and prevented planting claims drop in dry years.
Corn has often been the recipient of some of the hidden March acres appearing in the June report. In 13 of the past 16 years, June corn acreage was larger than the March Intentions. USDA found 1.1 million more corn acres in the June survey than they did in March. That was still down 1.039 million from last year, and thus helpful to keeping a lid on production.
Where did that ground come from? Was it in the high-yielding corn states or elsewhere? The table below uses NASS data to identify the March-to-June acreage shifts as well as the percent changes in acreage from 2017 to show where the 1.039 million left. The states with asterisks had the highest average corn yields in 2017.
|2017||2018 H||2018 M||Diff.||From 2017|
Note that among the high-yielding states, only Minnesota and Nebraska picked up meaningful corn acreage from the March Intentions report to this June report. Minnesota was still down 3% year over year due to switches to spring wheat (440,000 acres) and other crops, while Nebraska acreage now exceeds 2017.
The states with the biggest acreage losses year over year are all on the periphery of the Corn Belt or totally outside it. South Dakota lost 500,000 acres from intentions, with record soybean plantings of 5.7 ma and a slight increase in spring wheat versus March intentions.
The big three (corn, beans, wheat) crop acreage for the U.S. is consistent over time, varying less than 5 ma since 2012 (as shown in the table below). You will note that wheat and cotton are up year over year while corn and soybeans are lower. Multi-year highs in cotton and wheat prices likely had something to do with that!
This table also tells us that the 3-ma jump in principal crop acres this year wasn't in the big four commodities. They were only up a little more than a million acres between them. Oats, sorghum, rice and hay accounted for a chunk of the increase, with producers trying to diversify into niche markets.
Our bottom line? More planted acreage than previously expected gives the market a little cushion on yield, but these were not big surprises.
While concerning because they are a tax on either consumers (higher import price) or producers (lower selling price), the tariffs and counter tariffs are having little impact to date on U.S. exports. Soybean export sales are running well ahead of a year ago for both old crop and new crop. For July through September, the yield will be the biggest swing factor in the market balance sheets, as it usually is this time of year. The spec funds will start buying again when there's a story and enough farmer selling to feed the rally.
Alan Brugler can be reached at email@example.com
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