USDA Outlook: More Acres

Outlook Projects Higher Soybean, Corn Acres; Higher Sales; Lower Income

USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum, held virtually this year, always opens with an initial acreage, income and export forecast from USDA Chief Economist Seth Meyer. (Logo and photo courtesy of USDA)

OMAHA (DTN) -- USDA expects farmers will plant 90 million acres of soybeans this spring, a 6.9-million-acre bump from last year, while corn will see a 1.2-million-acre uptick in planting.

Soybean acres are pegged at 90 million acres, up 6.9 million acres from 2020 planted acres, or about a 7.6% bump in acres. Corn acres will uptick slightly to 92 million acres, up 1.2 million acres from last year, about a 1.3% bump in acreage.

USDA Chief Economist Seth Meyer, who was named to the post in December, offered some initial forecasts for crops during his opening speech at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum early Thursday. USDA will release more detailed analysis for crops and livestock production early Friday.

Part of the drive for higher acres basically comes back to normal planting weather, Meyer said.

"While we don't -- you know, we remember back in 2019, and the extreme prevent plant, the extreme moisture events -- also remember that 2020 was hampered by a larger-than-normal prevent plant. So, just if one assumes normal planting weather, we'll gain acres just on that matter, let alone the fact that we have quite strong prices, which will also incentivize planting."

Winter wheat acres will be 32 million, up 5% from 2020-21 and the first increase in winter wheat acres since 2013-14. Overall, total wheat acres will reach 45 million acres, up about 651,000 acres from last year, but still below the five-year average. Meyer said wheat acres will uptick slightly but noted that's largely because wheat acres are bouncing off a 100-year low.

"Winter wheat harvested area remains a question given the prolonged dryness we saw prior to this extreme cold event and then recent cold event with moderate snow cover in some key areas," Meyer said.

Cotton planted acres are pegged to remain steady at 12 million, Meyer said.

Looking at prices, USDA is forecasting the 2021-22 crop prices at $11.25 a bushel for soybeans, $4.20 a bushel for corn and $5.50 a bushel for wheat.

Still, net cash farm income is expected to decline because of lower farm-safety payments in 2021 than producers saw in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Regarding trade, USDA is forecasting a boost in sales to China, reaching a record $31 billion for fiscal year 2021. Trade overall for FY 2021 will reach $157 billion, an increase in $21 billion from FY 2020. The fiscal year for 2021 runs from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021.

Meyer recapped last year's rapid supply chain disruption on cattle and hog slaughter that brought down the cash prices for producers while packers gained from spikes in wholesale and retail prices. The widespread stay-at-home closures also brought about a sharp decline in vehicle use, leading to lower ethanol production.

The derecho event on Aug. 10, 2020, across Iowa also helped turn markets last year into a weather event. Meyer said the derecho "was really a turning point within the agricultural market, and it became quite a different world."

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

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Katie Dehlinger can be reached at katie.dehlinger@dtn.com

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