Maybe U.S. soybean farmers won’t be planting soybeans in every nook and cranny after all. According to USDA’s Prospective Plantings report, U.S. farmers intend to plant 76 million acres of soybeans, compared to 79.2 million acres estimated by analysts.

They also intend to plant 84.99 million acres of corn, compared to 84.41 million estimated by analysts; and 58.63 million acres of wheat, compared to analysts’ projections of 58.6 million acres.

Dan Basse, an analyst with AgResource Co., speaking at the CME Group press briefing at the Chicago Board of Trade, says projected soybean acres were almost 4 million acres under what most analysts were thinking.

Decrease total

Another big surprise in the March 31 USDA report was the decrease of about 8 million acres in total U.S. crop acres. “The last two years, farmers have responded to higher prices and profitability by expanding total crop acreage by about 10.1 million acres. So we’re taking some of that back. Some of the acreage includes about 2 million acres in winter wheat acreage.”

Soybean seedings at 76 million acres are up 300,000 acres from last year, but down 3.7 million acres from expectations. The difference between expectation and reality “is the biggest myth I can find in soybean seedings over the last 20 years,” Basse said.

The acreage number could mean that soybean ending stocks could drop from an expected 700 million bushels to 220 million bushels, according to Basse. “That really tightens up the balance sheet,” and improves some of the bearishness which had been focused on new crop soybeans.

Corn planting

Basse says with projected U.S. corn plantings of 85 million acres, which is close to expectations, corn prices “will probably be dragged up with soybeans. I have corn stocks for next year at about a billion bushels. So we’re going to see heightened volatility in the corn market as we start to focus on weather in the weeks to come.”

Basse said it’s been surprising that corn prices have held at $4 and bean prices at $8 to $10, especially with the economic environment of the last six to nine months. “It may take something like monster crops to push prices lower. The big factor in all these markets is the real price of corn and soybeans. To understand that, we have to look at the world economy and world trade. We have to focus closely on those situations at the same time we’re looking at domestic numbers.”

Don Roose, U.S. Commodities, Inc., says final corn and soybean acreage numbers by the end of planting season might still be a tossup. “The producer is very much in flux this year as to what he’s going to plant. We need to keep an eye on weather in the eastern and southern Corn Belt and the general economy.”

Ending stocks

He estimates ending stocks for corn at 1.1 billion to 1.2 billion bushels, “depending on what happens with yield. I think last year, we were impressed with corn yield under adverse conditions. Some of the concern with yield on corn is going to be put on the back burner.”

He pegs soybean ending stocks at around 300 million bushels, “which is an adequate supply. We expect a broad trading range for corn and soybeans, probably bigger than normal, because of all the uncertainty from a yield standpoint, and because the numbers have tightened up across the board.”

USDA’s March 31 grain stocks report indicated 6.96 billion bushels of corn in storage, compared to 7.01 billion bushels estimated by analysts. For soybeans, USDA reported 1.30 billion bushels in stock, compared to 1.32 billion bushels estimated by analysts. For wheat, USDA reported 1.04 billion bushels in stocks compared to 1.06 billion bushels estimated.

Usage improves

The stocks report indicates improved usage which could indicate that “the worst could be behind us now in regard to how the economy has hurt our demand base,” Basse said. “There could be somewhat of a battle for acres between corn and soybeans when we look down the road.”

Roose said that over the next four years, “you’re going to have almost 20 million acres come out of the Conservation Reserve Program. Some of those are going to be marginal acres, but I think we’re going to have big acre swings back and forth between corn and soybeans, and volatility is going to be very heightened.”

Soybean usage

At a press briefing at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, Joe Victor, an analyst with Allendale, Inc., said soybean usage of 974 million bushels for the last quarter “is record use. The recent-three year average for soybean usage has been 891 million bushels. We’re not getting a great deal of help from the crush sector, but we are getting help from the export sector.”

Corn usage

Meanwhile, estimated corn usage for the last quarter of 3.126 billion bushels “is better than the three-year average of 3.037 billion bushels. So exports aren’t the greatest in the world and our feed numbers are down, but we’re getting help from the ethanol industry. Even the most recent ethanol report did show record production.”

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com