Summary of USDA's plantings and stocks reports

USDA released two major reports the end of last week, the annual Prospective Plantings report and the quarterly Grain Stocks report.

The Grain Stocks report shows stock levels as of March 1 and provides some insights into the pace of demand for the 2012/13 crop years. In general, the data in the report were pretty negative for corn, soybeans and wheat.

The Prospective Plantings report shows what farmers are planning to plant this spring for the 2013/14 crop year. Farmers can still change their minds, and spring weather almost always has an impact on actual crop acreage. Still, this report provides a pretty good guide to how crop acres might shift among the major crops. The data shows more sorghum and wheat acreage, and less cotton acreage for 2013. Corn and soybean acreages are pretty close to the same as actual 2012 acreage levels.


Farmers plan to boost corn acreage slightly in 2013, according to USDA's Prospective Plantings report. The survey of farmers indicated total corn acreage of 97.282 million acres this year up 127,000 from the 2012 level. The planting intentions level is very close to what analysts had expected.

The average of the pre-report survey indicated corn acreage this year of 97.262 million acres, in a range from 96.8 million to 98.0 million. Earlier in the year, some forecasting groups forecast corn acreage above 100 million acres.

Corn acreage is generally lower in the heart of the Corn Belt, with acreage in Illinois down 600,000 acres and Indiana 150,000 acres lower. Farmers in Nebraska will cut corn acreage by 100,000 acres but farmers in Minnesota plan to boost acreage by 250,000 acres compared to the 2012 level. Farmers in drought stricken Kansas and Colorado plan to reduce corn acreage by 100,000 acres and 170,000 acres, respectively. Corn acreage will be up significantly, 500,000 acres, in North Dakota.

The biggest surprise out of all the USDA report data is the March 1 corn stocks figure. At 5.399 billion bushels, March 1 stocks are down 625 million from a year ago. However, stocks exceeded trade expectations by a whopping 400 million bushels. This falls into the category of a game changer for the old-crop corn outlook. It suggests that feed and residual use through the winter was much lower than expected and/or the 2012 corn crop is understated.

Feed and residual use for Dec.-Feb. is estimated at 1.084 billion bushels, down from 1.543 billion bushels in 2011/12. Total corn use for the quarter was 2.684 billion bushels, down 944 million bushels from a year ago to the lowest level for the quarter in ten years. Look for USDA to revise total feed and residual for the marketing year down 250 million bushels to near 4.3 billion in the next supply and demand update on April 10. Projected ending stocks will likely be revised up to near 900 million bushels. This alleviates much of the supply tightness, making the transition to new-crop much easier.


Soybean planting intentions were put at 77.126 million acres in the March Prospective Plantings report. This is just slightly below the 2012 acreage of 77.198 million acres. Compared to a year ago, soybean acreage is higher in most of the states in the Delta and Southeast regions. Acreage is also up in Illinois (up 350,000 acres), Iowa (up 50,000 acres) North Dakota (up 150,000 acres) and Ohio (up 50,000 acres). The big declines are in Nebraska (down 350,000 acres), Minnesota (down 250,000 acres), South Dakota (down 150,000 acres), Kansas (down 100,000 acres) and Missouri (down 100,000 acres).

While soybean acreage for 2013 is very close to the 2012 level, it fell far short of the level analysts had expected. The pre-report survey put the range of estimates from a low of 77.5 million acres to a high of 80.0 million. The average of the 21 analysts surveyed was 78.49 million acres, about 1.35 million acres above intentions. With "normal yields that difference comes to about 50 to 60 million bushels.

While the soybean planting intentions were generally positive for new crop prices, the soybean stocks level reported on Thursday were negative. Soybean stocks at the beginning of March totaled 999 million bushels, according to the quarterly Grain Stocks report more than 50 million bushels above the average of the analysts' pre-report predictions. With crop year ending stocks expected to be only 125 million bushels, a difference of 50 million bushels at this point in the season is pretty significant. Soybean prices fell significantly on Thursday in response to the report.


Farmers say they will boost spring wheat acreage for 2013 by about 400,000 acres to 12.7 million. This is an increase of a little more than 3 percent from 2012 levels. Spring wheat acreage in North Dakota will be up by 450,000 acres from a year ago, while corn and soybean acres also increase. The land available in North Dakota this year is higher this year, with about 580,000 acres coming out of CRP last September. However, spring wheat acreage is expected to be down slightly in Montana where another 400,000 acres exited the CRP last year. The spring wheat acreage in the Prospective Plantings report was about 200,000 acres higher than the average of the pre-release estimates. USDA's long-term forecast in February had implied a decline in spring wheat acreage.

Winter wheat acreage was revised up in the Prospective Plantings report. In January, USDA put winter wheat acreage for 2013 at 41.82 million acres. The new data shows winter wheat acreage at 41.99 million acres. Acreage in 2012 came in at 41.32 million acres. While winter wheat acreage is up in total, acreage in the Plains states is generally down. Kansas acreage is down 200,000 acres, and Colorado acreage is 150,000 lower. Acreages in Texas and Oklahoma are steady with the 2012 level. With the drought persisting in the Plains states, winter wheat production may well be down this year, even with the increase in planted acreage.

Farmers plan to plant less land to durum wheat in 2013. The data in the Prospective Plantings report puts durum acreage at 1.75 million acres, down 17.5 percent from a year ago. Acreage in North Dakota is down 240,000 acres year-over-year with declines in every other producing state except South Dakota. Durum wheat acreage is down 40,000 acres in Montana.

The wheat acreage numbers were a little negative for the market, but not nearly as negative as the stocks data also reported Thursday. Wheat stocks as of March 1 were put at 1.23 billion bushels, up 3 percent from a year ago. Almost all analysts surveyed ahead of the report had expected stocks to be below year ago levels. The average of the pre-report survey came in at 1.167 billion bushels. The data suggests that USDA will need to revise up ending stocks for 2013/14 when they update their forecasts in early April. The combination of bearish acreage and bearish stocks caused a big drop in wheat prices on Thursday.


The survey of planting intentions for cotton came in at 10.026 million acres down from 12.315 million acres in 2012. This is about 1 million acres higher than the results of the National Cotton Council's survey released last month. A big drop in cotton acreage has long been expected with cotton prices falling relative to prices of other crops. The big increase in soft red winter wheat acreage also indicated a cut-back in cotton acreage this year.

Farmers in Texas plan to cut back on cotton acreage by 1 million acres, and acreage is down in every producing state except Georgia, up 10,000 acres, and Florida, 7,000 acres higher. Farmers are set to reduce cotton acreage by more than 50 percent in Arkansas and more than 40 percent in Oklahoma and Mississippi. Cotton prices have improved since the beginning of the year so cotton acreage could end up a little higher than indicated in the Prospective Plantings report.

The cotton acreage intentions were generally in line with expectations. But earlier this week USDA released the annual Cotton Ginnings report and the report showed ginnings of 17.29 million bales. This indicates that USDA's production estimate for the 2012 crop of 17.01 million bales is too low and some adjustments to production and stocks are likely in the April USDA supply and demand report.


The USDA report includes planting intentions for 22 crops ranging from corn with more than 97 million acres to Austrian winter peas at 19,000 acres. The total for all of the crops reported in this report is 323.25 million acres, down almost 1 million from the total for 2012. Cotton acres are down almost 2.3 million acres year-over-year while the biggest increase is 1.38 million acres for sorghum.

With the drought in the Plains states, farmers may opt for a drought tolerant crop like sorghum in areas where it was too dry to plant winter wheat, or in areas where the winter wheat crop just failed. Sorghum acreage in Kansas is up 400,000 acres from the 2012 level and farmers in Texas plan to boost sorghum acreage by 700,000 acres. Sorghum acreage is also up a lot in Nebraska and Colorado, states hard hit by drought.

Farmers say they will plant less land to soybeans and less land to other oilseed crops. Planting intentions for sunflowers are down more than 12 percent to 1.68 million acres, canola acreage is 6 percent lower at 1.65 million and peanut acreage is off 27 percent, falling to 1.19 million acres. Farmers in North Dakota say they will plant more soybeans (up 150,000 acres), but cut canola by 230,000 acres and sunflowers by 224,000. Flaxseed acreage is also forecast to decline this year.