Chicago Board of Trade wheat rose 2 percent on Wednesday on concern about poor U.S. crop weather and expectations of strong global demand for U.S. supplies after prices fell to a nine-month low earlier this week.
Corn stabilized after three straight losing sessions following last week's U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report which surprised investors with estimates of big U.S. corn and wheat stockpiles.
Soybeans fell on worries that feed demand in China might be slowing with a new avian flu strain emerging, and as traders unwound long soy/short corn spread positions. At the CBOT as of 9:50 a.m. CDT (1450 GMT), May wheat was up 16 cents at $6.86-3/4 per bushel. May corn was up 2-3/4 cents at $6.43-1/4 a bushel and May soybeans were down 9 cents at $13.85 a bushel.
Wheat posted the biggest gains, lifted in part by concerns about dry conditions in the southern U.S. Plains. Welcome rains are forecast for the region this week but may miss the southwestern portion of the belt.
Expectations that the sharp drop in CBOT wheat prices this week could trigger export demand added support. Also, China's state-owned agricultural trading company, COFCO, has complained about the baking performance of some Canadian spring wheat shipments and suggested it may import more U.S. wheat instead.
"U.S. wheat is supposedly the cheapest in the world, even cheaper than Australian. A combination of those things, with the funds being short, has made wheat the upside leader," said Jim Gerlach, president of A/C Trading in Fowler, Indiana.
CBOT corn edged higher as the market tried to find its footing after plunging nearly $1 per bushel, or 13 percent, since USDA's blockbuster quarterly stocks report last week.
The government pegged U.S. corn stocks as of March 1 at 5.4 billion bushels, well above the average analyst estimate of about 5 billion. Stocks of soybeans and wheat also came in above expectations, and the USDA said farmers would plant the most acres to corn since 1936.
Commodity funds sold an estimated 81,000 corn contracts since the report's release, and open interest in CBOT corn fell by more than 40,000 contracts this week. By Wednesday, fund liquidation appeared to have slowed.
"Corn is being supported by some bargain buying after its dramatic fall, with the USDA report issued at a horrendous time for the market with very thin liquidity over Easter, but some investors now regarding current levels as attractive to rejoin the market," said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.
Soybeans bucked the firm trend on seasonal pressure from the expanding soy harvest in Brazil and Argentina, as well as concerns about feed demand in China, the world's top soy buyer.
Chinese state media on Wednesday announced two more cases of a new strain of bird flu, including one death, bringing to nine the number of confirmed human infections from the previously unknown flu type.
Most-active September soymeal futures on China's Dalian exchange fell 2 percent amid worries that the flu could lower demand for poultry feed.
"There is a lot of uncertainty with this avian flu, this new strain in China, (and) fears that, due to poor livestock margins in China, they might not use as many soybeans as the USDA is stating," Gerlach said.
Soybeans have also gained relative to corn since last week's USDA stocks report, a factor that prompted some traders to take profits by exiting long soy/short corn spreads.