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March 17, 2011

Lower Estimates for Safrinha Corn Acreage in Brazil

The safinha corn acreage in central Brazil will probably be less than what is currently being estimated by Conab. In Conab's March report, the agency estimated that farmers in Mato Grosso would plant 1.84 million hectares of safrinha corn, which is 7.5% less than what they had estimated several months ago. The Mato Grosso Soybean and Corn Producers Association (Aprosoja/MT) currently is estimating that the safrinha corn acreage in the state may be as much as 15% lower than what was estimated at the start of the growing season.

The reason for the lower estimate is the delayed soybean harvest and the continued wet weather keeping the planters out of the field. According to the Mato Grosso Institute of Agricultural Economics (Imea), as of last week, approximately 1.64 million hectares of safrinha corn had been planted. The official planting window for safrinha corn closed on February 28, but the federal government extended it until March 15th to give farmers an opportunity to plant their safrinha corn and still qualify for government programs.

Any safrinha corn planted this late in the growing season runs a very significant risk of lower yields due to the fact that the rainy season may end before the corn has had a chance to pollinate or fill grain. The rainy season ends in central Brazil usually at the end of April or early May and if that would be the case again this year, corn planted in the middle of March will not even have pollinated when the dry weather returns. The dry season in central Brazil is a hot and sunny period with very low relative humidity and very high evapotranspiration rates. The soils in central Brazil also have a poor water holding capacity, so moisture stresses can develop very quickly.

Instead of planting corn at this late date, farmers in the state may opt to plant sorghum or millet instead. Both of these crops are cheaper to plant, are more resistant to dry weather than corn, and have a shorter growing cycle.

A similar pattern may also emerge in the states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Goias. Conab is currently estimating that safrinha corn acreage in Mato Grosso do Sul will increase 13% from 0.83 million hectares to 0.93 million hectares. In Goias, they are estimating that the safrinha corn acreage will increase 6% from 0.43 million hectares to 0.46 million hectares. Both of these states are experiencing delays in soybean harvesting and planting of the safrinha corn similar to Mato Grosso, and in fact, the situation in Mato Grosso do Sul is probably worse than in Mato Grosso.