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The recently released USDA Crop Production report provided a few surprises for growers and market watchers.

The agency’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)August 12 release predicts a decrease in soybean and corn production from last year. Soybean production is forecast at 3.68 billion bushels, down 19 percent from 2018, while corn production is estimated at 13.9 billion bushels, down 4 percent from a year ago.

Area for soybean harvest is forecast at 75.9 million acres with planted area for the nation estimated at 76.7 million acres, down 4 percent from the June estimate, and down 14 percent from last year. Soybean yields are expected to average 48.5 bushels per acre, down 3.1 bushels from last year.

Average corn yield is forecast at 169.5 bushels per acre, down 6.9 bushels from last year. Acres planted to corn, at 90.0 million, are down 2 percent from NASS’ June estimate but up 2 percent from 2018. As of August 4, 57 percent of this year’s corn crop was reported in good or excellent condition, 14 percentage points below the same time last year.

Wheat production is forecast at 1.98 billion bushels, up 5 percent from 2018. Growers are expected to produce 1.33 billion bushels of winter wheat this year, up 12 percent from last year.

Fallout

Farm economists report that corn prices fell 0.25 per bushel and soybeans by 0.11 per bushel following the release of the report, raising speculation that prevented plant acreage may play a role in the forecast.

When combined with a Farm Service Agency projection of 11.2 million acres of prevent plant corn, the total corn base appears to exceed 101 million acres in 2019. 

The USDA noted that ag producers reported they were not able to plant crops on more than 19.4 million acres in 2019—of that total, 11.2 million for corn and 4.3 million for soybeans. This marks the most prevented plant acres reported since USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) began releasing the report in 2007 and 17.49 million acres more than reported at this time last year. 

Of those prevented plant acres, more than 73 percent were in 12 Midwestern states, where heavy rainfall and flooding this year has prevented many producers from planting mostly corn, soybeans and wheat. 

“Agricultural producers across the country are facing significant challenges and tough decisions on their farms and ranches,” USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey said. “We know these are challenging times for farmers, and we have worked to improve flexibility of our programs to assist producers prevented from planting.” 

Cover Crops 

USDA supported planting of cover crops on fields where farmers were not able to plant because of their benefits in preventing soil erosion, protecting water quality and boosting soil health. The report showed where producers planted 2.71 million acres of cover crops so far in 2019, compared with 2.14 million acres at this time in 2018 and 1.88 million at this time in 2017. 

To help make cover crops a more viable option, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) adjusted the haying and grazing date of cover crops, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service held signups in select states that offered producers assistance in planting cover crops. Meanwhile, USDA added other flexibilities to help impacted producers, including adjusting the deadline to file acreage reports in select states. 

This data report aggregates information from crop acreage reports as of August 1, 2019, which producers file with FSA to maintain program eligibility and to calculate losses for various disaster assistance programs.

Because some producers have not completed their filing and data are still being processed, FSA will make available subsequent data reports in September, October, November, December and January.

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