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Argentina's soy planting starts slowly

10/25/2012 @ 3:08pm

Argentina's 2012-13 soybean planting is kicking off in fits and starts, as a series of recent heavy rains has slowed progress, the Buenos Aires Cereals Exchange said in its weekly crop report Thursday.

Still, a bumper soybean crop is expected for the season.

To date, just 2% of the record 19.7 million hectares seen going to soybeans this season have been planted, down 4.2 percentage points from a year earlier, the exchange said.

Early planting is expected to continue slowly, as many low-lying fields are flooded and more rain is expected across much of the farm belt over the next week.

But Argentina's farmers are on track to shatter production records for both soybeans and corn this season, encouraged by high global prices and aided by wet weather.

Argentina is the world's No. 3 soybean exporter behind Brazil and the U.S. and is the world's leading exporter of soyoil and soymeal. Prices of the oilseed, a key animal feed, have surged this year as drought has battered the U.S. crop and stoked supply fears.

Production from the 2012-13 Argentine soybean crop is expected to reach 55 million-60 million metric tons, smashing the previous record of 52.7 million tons set in 2009-10, according to Agriculture Ministry sub-secretary Oscar Solis.

The El Nino weather phenomenon is seen continuing to bring heavier-than-normal showers throughout the growing season and boosting yields.

Prospects for Argentina's corn crop are also good, although planting also has been stalled in many areas due to the heavy rains, the exchange said. So far, 36.8% of the corn crop has been planted, down 18.3 percentage points on the year.

Argentina is the world's second-largest corn exporter, behind the U.S., although Brazil appears set to pass it this season. The wet conditions and high prices are expected to stoke more planting, denser planting and more use of fertilizer, all of which should combine to drive up corn yields.

The Agriculture Ministry's Mr. Solis expects a 2012-13 corn crop of 28 million-30 million tons, breaking the previous record of 24 million tons set in 2010-11.

The Buenos Aires exchange, however, has trimmed its forecast for sunflower seed cultivation by 200,000 hectares, to a total 1.8 million hectares. That's down 3.2% from last season. To date, 45.3% of the crop has been seeded. The country is also one of the world's top exporters of sunflower seed oil.

Meantime, Argentine farmers have started to gather winter wheat, with 4% of the crop harvested to date, the exchange said. Heavy rainfall has flooded many fields and is increasing the risk of outbreaks of fungus and other crop diseases. But conditions are very good in the important wheat growing areas of the south and southeast parts of Buenos Aires province, the exchange said.

The exchange held its forecast for 2012-13 wheat production at 10.12 metric tons. That's down from the 13.2 million tons the government estimates was grown last season. Government export limits on wheat have driven down prices and led many farmers to shun planting the grain.

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