Lag in US spring sowings grows by more than 1.6m acres in a week


US farmers, tackling a late start to spring, have fallen even further behind on sowings, with the lag expanding by a further 1.6m acres last week, although an improved weather outlook is raising hopes for playing catch-up.

Farmers had, as of Sunday, seeded a little over 27m acres of the 219m acres they intended to plant with 10 major spring crops, such as corn, cotton, soybeans and spring wheat, analysis of US Department of Agriculture data overnight shows.

That compares with the more than 41m acres that they would have seeded if sowings had kept up with the average pace, meaning a lag of nearly 13.8m acres, equivalent to an area nearly as big as Croatia, or twice the size of Hawaii.

A week before, comparable crop sowings were running behind by 12.1m acres.

‘Muddy fields, frost in the ground’

The extra lag reflects in part an increased delay in sowings of corn, for which seedings as of Sunday, at 17% complete, were running 10 points behind the average pace, besides 1 point behind market expectations.

In Minnesota, typically the fourth biggest corn-growing state after Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska, seedings, usually 26% completed by now, were yet to start, as “cool temperatures, muddy fields, and frost in the ground have delayed planting of spring crops”, USDA scouts said.

Frost is “still working its way out of the ground”, they said, although adding that "snow has melted in most fields”.

In Iowa - where sowings are 10 points behind the normal pace, at 17% complete - northern parts remain “wet from melting snow which has slowed planting progress”, although growers have made strong advances further south.

Spring wheat lag

However, a small lag, equivalent to 270,000 acres, opened up in cotton too, while the delay in oat plantings expanded, in percentage terms, to 25 points, equivalent to nearly 700,000 acres in area.

And in spring wheat, the 10% of seedings completed as of Sunday was, while up 7 points week on week, 26 points behind the typical figure for the time of year, expanding the area lag to more than 3m acres.

Again, the poor conditions in Minnesota were largely responsible, although the biggest lag was recorded for South Dakota, where only 12% of spring wheat was planted, “well behind 83% last year and 63% for the five-year average”, the USDA said.

In North Dakota, the top spring wheat-growing state, “spring wheat planted was 3%, behind 17% last year and 22% for the five-year average”.

‘Seeded to other crops’

The extent of the lag has begun to raise some concerns of lost seedings, or of a switching to later-planted crops such as soybeans.

Broker Benson Quinn Commodities said that “US planting delays have private analysts talking potential for fewer planted acres, [and] delays taking the top end off US corn yield potential, leading to tighter US inventories in the 2018-19 marketing year”.

At MaxYield Cooperative, Karl Setzer said that “delays to spring wheat planting are becoming more of a market factor”.

While a USDA report in March forecast a 10% rise in spring wheat seedings this year, “given the delays we have seen to planting in that region, it is now thought at least a portion of these acres will be seeded to other crops, mainly soybeans.

“Historically when planting is as slow as this year spring wheat acres decline from 8-14% rather than increase.”

Acceleration ahead?

However, there are hopes of improved progress ahead, with Benson Quinn Commodities foreseeing, for spring wheat, an “active week of planting progress” after rains on Monday came in short of expectations in northern araes, where “conditions are improving quickly”.

The USDA said that, in North Dakota, “reports indicated that, on average, producers intended to begin fieldwork on May 3”.

For the Midwest, the outlook appears a little less benign, with Radiant Solutions cautioning that “rains will “slow corn planting in Midwest again this week”, saying that precipitation “will be returning to the central Midwest by mid-week which will stall planting there”.

However, temperatures should “finally warm to above-normal across the Midwest, though, which will help to improve soil temperatures and will accelerate wheat growth as well as corn germination”.

At Futures International, Terry Reilly said that “the Midwest will see rain on and off Tuesday into Friday, and plantings will again accelerate after that event”.

The overnight data underlined US growers’ ability to exploit a sowing window, with Illinois farmers, for instance, seeding 28% of their corn in one week, and Missouri farmers 36%.

"Producers were able to make significant progress planting corn and have started planting soybeans over the past week," USDA scouts in lllinois said, while those in Missouri said that "warmer temperatures and little precipitation for the week allowed planting to progress quickly".


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