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March 30, 2016

Spring Planting in the United States

Corn planting progress - The weather late last week didn't seem like spring in the Midwest with heavy snow in some areas and heavy rains in other areas. There has been some corn planted in the southwestern areas such as Texas (38% planted vs. 37% average) and Kansas (2% planted vs. 0% average), but planting is behind schedule in the Delta. Farmers in Louisiana have planted 36% of their corn (average is 61%), with 8% planted in Arkansas (average is 20%), and 5% in Mississippi (average is 29%).

After a brief warmup this week, the forecast is calling for another plunge of cold air from Canada to move into the Midwest during the first ten days of April. Therefore, there will be some more corn planted in the southwestern areas this week, but probably not much corn will be planted in the central or eastern Midwest.

Corn planting in the U.S. is always slow at the start of April and it accelerates as the month progresses. As a remainder, below is the percent of the U.S. corn crop that was planted by the end of April for the last six years.

Crop Progress Release Date    % of U.S. Corn Planted
April 27, 201519%
April 28, 201419%
April 29, 20135%
April 30, 201253%
April 25, 20119%
April 26, 201050%

If there is one lesson to be learned from the last several growing seasons in the U.S. it is that U.S. farmers can plant a lot of corn in a very short period of time. Basically, half of the U.S. corn crop can be planted in a 7-day period if the weather cooperates. Therefore, even if there is a relatively slow start to planting, farmers can catch up very quickly under the right conditions.

We really can't judge how fast the corn will be planted until we get to about the middle of April. Generally, the earlier the corn is planted, the higher the yield potential if there is favorable weather during the summer growing season.

Early corn planting and crop insurance - As early corn planting gets underway, another thing to consider is how early the corn can be planted and still be covered by crop insurance. Below is a list of general dates for the Midwest concerning early corn planting. Farmers of course can plant earlier than these dates, but they would be covered under their crop insurance for potential problems that would require replanting such as frosts or poor germination.

April 1st

  • Kentucky and much of Missouri

April 1st to April 10th

  • Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Kansas - south to north

April 10th

  • South Dakota

April 11th

  • Iowa and Minnesota

April 10th to April 15th

  • Nebraska - southeast to northwest

April 10th to April 25th

  • Michigan - south to north

April 11th to April 21st

  • Wisconsin - south to north

April 15th

  • North Dakota

Potential U.S. corn acreage in 2016 - on March 31st the USDA will release the Prospective Planting report indicating what U.S. farmers intend to plant in 2016. At the USDA Outlook Forum in late February, they indicated that U.S. farmers would plant 90 million acres of corn (U.S. farmers planted 88 million acres of corn in 2015). I view the 90 million acres as a floor with the possibility that it could increase 1-2 million acres more than that if the weather cooperates for early corn planting.

Due to the current low prices, it is going to be hard for farmers to make money growing any crop, but it seems like corn would give farmers the best opportunity to improve their bottom line. Corn isn't the only alternative, so in some of the fringe areas, there might be a few more acres of sunflowers, forages, or Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). For the last several years, there have been 5-6 million prevent plant acres due to excessive spring wetness. With the current forecast, it looks like there will be less prevent plant acres, which could free up 2-3 million acres for crops.

According to the Farm Service Agency, as of September 2015 there were 24.2 million acres enrolled in the CRP program. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, the number of acres allowed in the CRP program will decline on a yearly basis. In 2014, the cap on acres was 27.5 million acres and that will decline to 24.0 million in 2017.

In contrast, in the Delta and mid-south there will probably be some corn acreage lost due to flooding and saturated conditions. By the time the area dries out enough for planting, the corn planting window will be closing. Some might get shifted to cotton, but I think the majority will be shifted to soybeans.

Potential U.S. soybean acreage in 2016 - If the corn acreage increases as expected, it might come at the expense of potential soybean acreage. Soybean acreage has been increasing a lot in recent years, but it looks like corn will take back some of those acres. Therefore, in the Midwest, it is possible that soybeans will lose acreage. In the Delta and the mid-South, soybeans may gain acreage due to a switch from corn.

Overall, at this point I would estimate that the 2016 U.S. soybean acreage will be very close to the 82.5 million acres indicated in the USDA Outlook Forum. U.S. farmers planted 82.65 million acres of soybeans in 2015. In a few days, we should get a clearer picture of the acreage with the release of the Prospective Planting Report.