January 4, 2012

2011/12 Crop Acreage in Argentina Still Not Determined

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

The ongoing dry weather in Argentina has thrown into doubt what the actual planted acreage will be in Argentina this growing season. Approximately 20% of the corn and 19% of the intended soybeans have not yet been planted and the planting window will close in about two weeks.

Corn - Of the two crops, it is more detrimental if the corn is planted outside the normal planting window than it is for soybeans. The planting window for corn will close in mid-January, but the farmers will not plant their corn until there is enough soil moisture to insure germination and stand establishment. If they plant in dry soil, there is a risk of receiving enough rain only to germinate the seed, but then if it turns dry again, the young plants could die. That is exactly what has already happened with some double crop soybeans in Argentina.

Currently there is approximately 750,000 hectares of intended corn acres that have not been planted due to dry conditions. Most of the unplanted corn is in the western and northern regions of the country. In the four most northern and western reporting districts (there are a total of 15 reporting districts in Argentina), there are slightly more than 500,000 hectares of corn yet to plant including some important corn producing regions in Cordoba. The corn in far northern Argentina is expected to be planted, but there is a question if the corn in western Argentina will be entirely planted if they don't receive significant rainfall within the next two weeks.

Ironically, much of the unplanted corn in Argentina is at the same latitude as the northern half of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. Farmers in northern Rio Grande do Sul are already harvesting their early-planted corn, yet several hundred kilometers west in northern Argentina, the corn has not even been planted!

Unless there is a complete change in the weather pattern in the next two weeks, the Argentine corn acreage will probably be less than the 3.8 million hectares of corn we had estimated at the start of the growing season. We will not know the final corn acreage for several more weeks, but at the present time, I am going to estimate that 10% of the intended corn acres will either not get planted or will be abandoned due to drought conditions. That 10% reduction in harvested area would represent a potential loss of about 2 million tons of corn.

The unplanted corn acres could be planted to soybeans, grain sorghum, or other minor crops.

Soybeans -JCi More than 3.5 million hectares of soybeans remain to be planted in Argentina and the majority of those acres are double crop soybeans planted after the wheat harvest. The planting window for double crop soybeans in Argentina also generally closes in mid-January, but in the case of adverse weather such as this year, it could be extended a little longer. Planting double crop soybeans after wheat in Argentina is very similar to what American farmers do in the southern Corn Belt. If the soil moisture is very short after the wheat is harvested, farmers will generally wait to plant their soybeans until there is enough soil moisture to insure germination and stand establishment. Since soybean seed is much cheaper than hybrid corn, some farmers do plant the soybeans into dry soil and let the seed wait for the needed rainfall. That is a risky proposition because they could end up losing the seed and the crop would need to be replanted.

I think it is too early to say for sure that not all the intended soybean acres will be planted, but if the weather pattern does not change in the next 2-3 weeks, there is a distinct possibility that the soybean harvested area could decline 5% (approximately 1,000,000 hectares) due to a combination of not being planted or abandoned due to the drought. Some of the intended corn acres might get switched to soybeans, but since the corn acreage in Argentina is only one-fifth as large as the soybean acreage, it is unlikely that any more than 300,000 hectares of corn could be switched to soybeans. Therefore, it possible that the soybeans acreage in Argentina could end up being smaller than what was originally anticipated even with a switch of some corn acres into additional soybean production.