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USDA Prospective Plantings preview: Will weather trump acreage data?

Agriculture.com Staff 03/29/2010 @ 10:55am

Wednesday's the day. We'll learn just how many bushels of corn and soybeans USDA thinks the country's farmers will raise. But, how will the trade respond?

In recent years, the March Prospective Plantings report has always been a big day for the markets, sending prices sharply in one direction or another. Will the same happen this year?

At first, that could be the case, analysts say. But, in a year like this -- with difficult field conditions continuing after a wet fall and winter -- the numbers on paper USDA releases Wednesday may not be the bellwether of planted acres this year that it's been in the past.

Though the jury's still out on just how much current field conditions will affect what farmers end up planting this spring, one thing has netted a consensus. There will likely be more soybeans and fewer corn acres planted this year, analysts say.

Last week, Dow Jones Newswires released a survey of estimates conducted with more than 20 grain marketing firms and specialists. That survey shows analysts expect an 88.94 million-acre corn crop (estimates range from 87 to 90.15 million acres) and a 78.55 million-acre soybean crop (estimates range from 77.43 to 79.50 million acres).

The prior figure is almost 2 million acres higher than last year's corn acre, an increase attributed mainly to those acres that farmers weren't able to get planted last spring and summer because of ongoing wet conditions. But, the latter figure for soybeans is more indicative of the trend for this year's plantings.

"We continue to be struggling with just how many corn acres we will lose to soybeans," says GFI Group floor analyst Mark Hanna. "Trade estimates vary between a 1.0 million to 2.5 million-acre shift."

Wednesday's the day. We'll learn just how many bushels of corn and soybeans USDA thinks the country's farmers will raise. But, how will the trade respond?

Still, numbers for this year's crops are just estimates at this point. Whether they reach fruition on the land is entirely up to Mother Nature at this point. Farmers in some areas say they've been able to start spring fieldwork already, though others report the moisture that slammed them last fall and winter is still around, meaning another late start could be in the cards this year.

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