South America Calling

Brazil's Corn Harvest Progresses Slowly

By Alastair Stewart

Brazil's main-crop corn harvest progressed slowly over the last week as many farmers prioritize collecting soybeans while others were hampered by rain.

Main-crop harvesting was 23.5% complete as of Friday, up 4.9 percentage points on the same time last year but an advance of just 4 points on the week before, said Safras e Mercado, a local farm consultancy.

Over the last two weeks, showers returned to Brazil's southeast and south, the principle summer corn regions, slowing harvesting efforts.

But many would have slowed regardless to concentrate on soybean harvesting. They are doing this not only because mature corn keeps longer in the field without affecting quality and yields, but also because of exploding freight rates.

The inability of Brazil's road and rail infrastructure to deal with demand to send soybeans from the fields to port caused the price of trucking a ton of grain from Sorriso, Mato Grosso to Paranagua port to jump 22% last week to R$290 ($146). That's 51% higher than last year.

With transport at a premium, farmers are content with meeting nearby soybean delivery requirements, leaving lower net value corn to one side.

"Those regions that have consumers near, and depend less on long-distance freight, harvest and sell ... Others are leaving corn in the field," said Safras in a weekly report.

Delaying the corn harvest is fine as a stopgap but the transport problem is deep seated and growers can't expect freight prices to fall dramatically later in the season. As such, farmers will likely see freight cutting deep into corn margins in 2013.

Meanwhile, second-crop corn planting advanced well last week as rains eased in the center-west states of Mato Grosso, Goias and Mato Grosso do Sul.

According to Safras, farmers had planted 47% of the projected second-crop corn area as of Friday, up from 42% at the same time last year.

Second-crop corn planting is progressing at 20% a week in Mato Grosso, but the wet weather in late January and early February delayed soybean harvesting and therefore corn fieldwork is also behind schedule, according to the Mato Grosso Agricultural Economy Institute (IMEA).

Planting in the biggest second-crop corn planting state was 17 percentage points behind last year at 63.7% complete as of Friday, said IMEA.

If the current planting pace is maintained, around 15% of the state's second-crop corn will be planted outside the recommended planting window and decent yields from these later crops will depend on summer rains continuing through March, said the institute.

Farmers may choose not to plant those incremental crops.

Indeed, Safras forecasts Brazil's total corn area will drop 7.4% to 33.8 million acres in 2012-13, not least because of a 6.7% drop in second-crop area as farmers have insufficient time to plant.

Brazilian 2012-13 corn production will drop 2.7% to 70.7 mmt, according to the consultancy.



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