USDA Reports Review

Shockingly Low Corn and Soybean Planting Intentions Send Markets Limit-Up

Dana Mantini
By  Dana Mantini , Senior Market Analyst
This chart details acreage changes since the '90s for corn, soybeans and wheat plantings, including the March 2021 intentions. (DTN chart by Todd Hultman)

Before the release of USDA's March 1 Grain Stocks and Prospective Planting reports, much of the focus was on March 1 corn and soybean stocks. Following the release of the reports, the focus quickly shifted to the planting intentions. With the highest prices for both commodities at six- to seven-year highs, Dow Jones' pre-report estimates expected much higher seeding than what the report suggested. Corn planting, expected to be 93.1 million acres (ma), instead came out 2 ma less, while soybean intentions were a good 2.4 ma under the average pre-report estimate.

CORN

Corn planting intentions rose by less than 1% from last year to 91.1 ma. That was a good 2 ma below the average Dow Jones pre-report estimate of 93.1 ma. March 1 stocks were revealed to be nearly 80 million bushels (mb) lower than the trade had anticipated at 7.70 billion bushels (bb).

The corn stocks number was down 3% from a year ago while December through February disappearance rose to 3.59 bb from 3.38 bb a year ago, suggesting strong demand. The lower stocks number suggests that USDA might consider raising feed and residual usage in the April crop report.

Some notable state changes in corn planting intentions were Iowa and Illinois down nearly 3% and 3.5%, respectively.

On-farm corn stocks were 4.04 bb and down 9%, while off-farm stocks figured 3.66 bb and up 5%.

U.S. corn export sales already at a record-setting pace, assuming that all corn sold is shipped, would likely result in ending stocks being far lower than the current World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) projection. The managed money funds returned to buy corn on Wednesday before the limit-up move. As of midday Wednesday, the option markets suggested that corn would move another dime or more higher overnight.

SOYBEANS

Soybean planting intentions were revealed at just 87.6 ma, some 2.4 ma below the average pre-report estimate. While still up 5% from a year ago, the estimate was shy of the nearly 90 ma estimate from Dow Jones. That shocking acreage number -- coupled with the expected but 31% lower inventory number of 1.56 bb -- implied that U.S. soybean ending stocks were on a course for an even tighter carryout than our meager 120 mb this year. December through February soybean disappearance was 1.38 bb, up 39% versus a year ago.

On-farm stocks of 594 mb were down a whopping 41% from a year ago, while off-farm stocks of 970 mb also fell by 22%.

The soybean market, already oversold from recent weakness, moved quickly to the limit-up close of 70 cents higher. With soybean export sales already record large, and with the kind of acreage intentions mentioned above, we could see U.S. ending stocks gravitate toward zero next year.

WHEAT

Wheat stocks and acreage estimates did not turn out to be bullish, but wheat took advantage of the "any port in a storm" buying theory, as corn and beans both locked limit higher.

Wheat seeding was estimated to be 46.4 ma, up 5% from a year ago. That was also about 1.2 ma above the average pre-report estimate of 45.16 bb. Winter wheat acres were 33.1 ma, up 9% versus expectations for 31.78 ma, while spring wheat acres were closer to pre-report estimates of 11.76 bb, rising 4% to 11.7 ma, compared to 12.25 ma a year ago. The 46.4 ma all wheat number was roughly 2 ma above last year's all-time-record-low planting.

Despite the mostly neutral to bearish wheat report, Kansas City ended up closing over 17 cents per bushel higher, as the prospect for more hard red winter wheat feeding suddenly became brighter. With drought expanding in the Northern Plains spring wheat areas, both North Dakota and Minnesota spring wheat intentions fell by 2% and 3%, respectively.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The 2021 March Grain Stocks and Prospective Planting reports once again solidified the ongoing theme of tightening supplies for both corn and beans. With the soybean ending stocks number already a bare minimum, and corn ending stocks continuing to contract, Wednesday's shockingly low acreage intentions imply that things could remain very tight in the coming year. That puts more emphasis on Brazil's safrinha crop and the ongoing dryness in central Brazil.

However, one must keep in mind that acreage intentions can change on a dime. It is very likely that, with the kind of price moves we saw on Wednesday, there is even more incentive for farmers to up their intentions. So, the jury is still out.

Dana Mantini can be reached at dana.mantini@dtn.com

Follow Dana Mantini on Twitter @mantini_r

Dana Mantini