Delayed Argentine corn crop to buoy world food prices
Last year, he planted 30 to 40 percent of his corn in December. In 2012, he said, 70 to 80 percent will go into the ground in the last month of the year.
Hughes became a fan of December corn sowing last season, when his late-planted GMO seeds yielded better than early-planted fields hit by a December-January drought just as plants were entering their delicate flowering period.
Some commercial pressure has been taken off Argentine farmers this year thanks to a new government policy of announcing full-season quotas for corn exports. The scheme replaced an incremental quota system that growers said hurt their profits by reducing competition among buyers.
The government announced in September that 15 million tonnes would be freed for export this season. Argentina curbs exports to ensure ample domestic supplies of food.
"No one is in a hurry to plant or sell corn this season because of the new, one-shot quota system and the fact that more December planting has been made possible thanks to advances in technology," Hughes said. "All the floods did was push us faster in a direction we were already going."
Other growers are embracing December planting as well. Only about half the 3.4 million hectares expected to be sown with 2012/13 corn in Argentina has been seeded so far, lagging last season's planting tempo by 12 percentage points, according to a local grains exchange.
Two years ago, Santiago del Solar, who manages 12,000 hectares, started experimenting with late-planted GMO corn in an effort to spread out weather-related risks. He found little difference between early- and late-planted corn yields.
"This year we are planting more in December because soils were not firm enough to plant earlier," said del Solar, who plans on sowing 25 to 30 percent of his corn in December versus 20 percent last season.
Soybeans and derivatives such as soyoil and meal are Argentina's main farm export. In times of bad weather, growers tend to switch from growing corn to soy, which is relatively cheap to plant and more resistant to adverse conditions.
The extent to which soy area will rise at the expense of corn will not be known for at least another month, when growers can survey how much land they ended up planting despite the torrential Southern Hemisphere spring rains.
"A lot of acreage will just stay flooded this year, so it won't go to corn or soybeans," del Solar said. "It will just stay flooded."