US farmers more than 50% behind on spring crop plantings

25.04.2018

US farmers have seeded less than half the area with spring crops that they would typically have done by now, thanks to cold and wet weather which has left them behind on plantings by an area bigger than Switzerland.

Out of the 219m acres that US farmers intend to sow this year with major spring crops, from corn to sugar beet, 11.8m acres have been seeded so far, Agrimoney analysis of US Department of Agriculture data out overnight show.

That compares with the 23.9m acres that they would have planted if they had managed to seed at the five-year average pace for each of the 10 crops included in the analysis.

The shortfall, of 12.1m acres, is equivalent to an area bigger than the Netherlands, or to the US states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, or roughly half the size of South Korea, or the state of Kentucky.

‘Extended winter conditions’

The shortfall is led, in area terms, by corn, of which farmers - in achieving sowings of only 5% so far of the 88.02m acres they intended to plant are behind to the tune of 9 percentage points, or the equivalent of 7.9m acres.

The lag follows a cold and wet start to spring which has left farmers in Iowa - the top growing state, where sowings are typically 11% completed by now - yet to start planting,

“Counties in the northern half of Iowa received snow at mid-week before temperatures warmed to near normal by the week’s end,” said USDA scouts in the state, flagging “extended winter conditions”.

In Missouri, where 16% of corn was seeded, less than half the typical proportion by now, “average temperatures… were well below average, hindering planting and growth throughout most of the state”, scouts said, flagging that “some freezing occurred in the western half of the state”.

‘Snow cover, wet and frozen ground…’

In Minnesota, where farmers, which have yet to start on plantings, have typically seeded 13% of corn by now, “snow cover, additional precipitation and cooler temperatures resulted in another week with 0.0 days suitable for fieldwork”, USDA officials said.

“Snow cover, wet and frozen ground, and cooler temperatures continued to delay planting of spring crops,” a factor which has prevented growers making a start either on spring wheat, of which they normally have one-quarter sown by now.

Similarly, in Montana, spring wheat sowings, typically 24% completed by now, have yet to begin, as while “spring conditions finally began to arrive… crop reporters noted that conditions remained too wet for field work throughout the state, as spring run-off is occurring”.

In South Dakota, spring wheat was 2% seeded - compared with one-half normally by now – with USDA scouts reporting only “0.5 days suitable for fieldwork” last week in the state.

Biggest laggards

The slowdown has left spring wheat sowings overall at just 3% complete as of Sunday, 22 points behind the average pace and – unusually – unchanged week on week.

Indeed, investors had expected growers to have managed at least some headway, taking sowings to 7% completion.

Still, in percentage terms, farmers are more behind on seedings of oats which, at 31% complete are running 24 points behind the average pace, and sugar beet, of which 12% of crop is in the ground, compared with the typical 37% by now.

‘Crops can be planted quickly’

Nonetheless, with investors holding out hopes for strong sowings progress ahead, reaction to the data on futures markets was muted with both Minneapolis spring wheat and Chicago corn futures actually showing marginal losses in early deals.

Richard Feltes at RJ O’Brien said that while “US row crop planting may be slow out of the blocks but there is nothing in the Midwest precipitation forecasts, except the north west Midwest and northern Plains, to suggest prolonged planting delays on crops which we know can be planted quickly”.

For spring wheat areas, broker Benson Quinn Commodities said “the weather has turned the corner.

“There will be some progress this week” in plantings, although “don’t be surprised if it isn’t great progress.”

Acreage switch?

Still, analysts have highlighted some threat that the conditions could at least prompt farmers to switch some area to other crops, with slightly later seedings windows – soybeans being a prime candidate.

Benson Quinn Commodities said that “poor conditions have cost some spring wheat acres”, to an area that could rise “as much as 750,000 acres at some point, but [we] wouldn’t put it there right now”.

US farmers had intended to sow 12.6m acres of non-durum spring wheat.

Tregg Cronin at Halo Commodity Company said that “the US hard red spring wheat balance sheet will remain a question mark as acres have already been lost in South Dakota, but the jury is still out on North Dakota”, the top spring wheat growing state, as well as Minnesota and Montana.

“Spring wheat will go in the ground in May in short-order if forecasts hold.”

The USDA office in North Dakota said that “reports indicated that, on average, producers intended to begin field work on May 2”.


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