Corn nears "slowest year;" South Plains ranges poor

May 31, 2013

Rains are once again a mixed blessing in corn country. On the one hand, it is needed in many areas, and on the other, it continues to delay the remaining percentage points of corn plantings for this year. The slow progress has led to comparisons to 1993 and questions about whether this year has been the slowest year in recent memory.

As of the most recent Crop Progress report (May 28), corn plantings across the 18 states which grow the lion’s share of the country’s corn stood at 86 percent. This is behind the five-year average of 90 percent by the same week.

“So is this the slowest ever?” asked Steve Meyer and Len Steiner of CME’s Daily Livestock Report. They answered themselves, saying it depends on one’s definition.

“We have always shown 1993 as the slowest year primarily because it got started so slowly with less than 10 percent of acres planted by the end of April. Like this year, producers caught up some in mid-May 1993, planting 53 percent of the acres between May 5 and May 19 of that year.”

They went on to point out that several years in the 1990s and one in the first decade of the 2000s had lower same-week corn plantings compared to this year.

The rains—too much too early in some places, not enough in others—played a major role in the slowness of this year’s corn plantings. Unexpected rains in recent weeks have continued to delay the remaining corn plantings. Similarly, lack of rain and unusual weather in southwestern states has caused some problems to winter wheat condition and emerged corn.

Some areas, such as Texas in particular, had some issues with freeze damage to corn plants which had already emerged. Robert Burns of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service said the frost damage had come early enough in the plants’ growth that the vital portions of the plant were still protected underground.

Both Meyer and Steiner, and Andrew Gottschalk of Hedgers Edge, anticipated the corn-intended acres which continue to remain unplanted will likely be switched to late soybeans. Exactly how many acres that will be, however, is uncertain.

“It is currently being estimated that between 1-2 million corn acres may be switched to soybeans,” reported Gottschalk. “One private source has reduced corn production this year 410 million bushels from the latest USDA estimate. He has also reduced new crop soybean production by 40 million bushels.”

Meyer and Steiner suggested 1.5-2 million corn acres would be converted over to soybeans. They did point out that even with the projected declines in corn acres from earlier estimates, a yield of 155 bushels per acre would “allow ending stocks to more than double.”

The state of soybeans isn’t doing so well either, however. As of May 28, the soybean plantings across the country amounted to 44 percent of the anticipated total acres. This compares to the fiveyear average of 61 percent completed by the same week. Of the 18 primary soybean states, only two—Michigan and Ohio—had outstripped their five-year average planting rates and only another one—South Dakota— was within 5 percent of the five-year average.

While some parts of the country are experiencing moisture—some more than they can handle—pastures and ranges in many cow/calf states remain in bad shape. Overall, pasture and range conditions across the continental states remain at 27 percent “poor” or “very poor.” Thirty-one percent of the country’s ranges are “fair” and 42 percent are “good” or “excellent.”

When one looks at the state level, however, things are a bit more dire. Most of the “poor” and “very poor” ratings are located in southwestern states where cow/ calf ranchers depend on rangeland. Arizona, for example, was 66 percent in this lowest condition category, Colorado was 45 percent, Kansas was 53 percent, Nebraska and Nevada at 65 percent, and Texas at 44 percent. New Mexico took the bad cake with 91 percent of its ranges ranked as “poor” or “very poor.”

“Dry conditions in much of the cattle country will keep forage costs too high for heifer retention to occur,” Gottschalk pointed out. “This action is increasing offerings of feeders and calves. Cheaper grain prices will likely continue to pressure deferred fed cattle futures limiting buyer interest in feeders and calves.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor