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May 11, 2011

U.S. Corn Acreage Could Decline 1.0 Million Acres, Maybe More

Saturated soils and extensive flooding in the eastern and southern Corn Belt, coupled with a delayed start to spring planting in the northwestern Corn Belt could result in a decline in U.S. corn acreage compared to the March intensions. In the March Prospective Planting Report, the USDA estimated that American farmers would plant 92.178 million acres of corn in 2011, which is 3.98 million more than in 2010. Under the current planting conditions, it is now highly unlikely that all the intended corn acreage will be planted and the corn acreage could decline 1.0 million acres or more depending on the remaining spring weather.

The wild card in this calculation is how many acres of corn that has already been planted will be flooded out by the extensive flooding along the Mississippi floodplain. The corn being flooded out was planted in April and it will probably be too late to replant most of the corn once the water recedes.

Assuming a 1.0 million acre reduction in corn acreage and 5.7 million acres of corn being used for silage (the three year average), the total harvested acreage for grain would be 85.42 million acres. If we also assume a nationwide corn yield of between 159 to 161 bu/ac, the 2011 U.S. corn production would be in a range of 13.58 to 13.75 billion bushels.

The slowest corn planting progress is in Indiana (4% planted), Ohio (2%), Michigan (8%), North Dakota (3%), South Dakota (17%), and Minnesota (28%). The farmers in these six states indicated that they had intended to plant an additional 1.85 million acres of corn or 46% of the new corn acres in the U.S. One of the worst states is North Dakota where the farmers are just now getting into the fields. North Dakota farmers were expected to increase their corn acreage by 450,000 acres and in South Dakota they were expecting to increase the corn acreage by 850,000 acres. Those increases are now in doubt and the corn acreage in both states might decline compared to the March intensions. Nationwide, 40% of the corn has been planted compared to 80% last year and 59% on average.

The situation in North Dakota and South Dakota is complicated by the fact that they have not been able to plant their spring wheat acreage as well. North Dakota farmers had intended to plant 7.1 million acres of spring wheat, which is 700,000 more than in 2010. Farmers in South Dakota had intended to plant 1.3 million acres of spring wheat and the cutoff date for spring wheat planting in South Dakota was May 5th (last Thursday) to still be fully covered under crop insurance.

Therefore, some of the spring wheat acreage could be shifted to corn if it dries out in time or to soybeans which can be planted later or even to sunflowers. Farmers in North Dakota have until May 25 to plant their corn and still be covered by crop insurance.

Corn planting progress has been on a normal pace in parts of the western Corn Belt and it is entirely possible that farmers in Nebraska and Iowa planted more corn than what they were anticipating due to the revenue advantage corn has over soybeans. Additionally, all across the Corn Belt, farmers will be willing to plant their corn later than normal this year to take advantage of the strong corn prices. They will be willing to sacrifice small yield reductions in exchange for the corn price. In the central Corn Belt, farmers will probably still be willing to plant corn until at least the third week of May, maybe even a little longer. Therefore, the corn and soybean acreage numbers continue to be moving targets.

For every corn acre reduced, it does not mean that an additional acre of soybeans will be planted. It's not a one-for-one switch due to farmers taking prevent-plant crop insurance payment which then precludes another crop from being planted in that field.

If we were just dealing with the situation in the Midwest, I would estimate that the soybean acreage would increase maybe a half a million acres, but with the flooding along the Mississippi, there is no guarantee that the soybean acreage will increase at all. Much of the floodplain of the Mississippi is normally planted to soybeans, but some of these areas will be inundated by standing water for several weeks at least. Therefore, it is entirely possible that farmers won't be able to switch from one crop to another, but rather the entire planted acreage in the U.S. will decline in 2011.