Producers are expected to plant 7.29 million more corn acres, 7.6 million more soybean acres, and 451,000 fewer wheat acres this year, according to USDA’s Prospective Plantings report released Tuesday.

USDA officials estimate producers will plant 97 million acres of corn, 83.5 million acres of soybeans, and 44.7 million acres of wheat in the 2020 growing season.

Grain traders were predicting corn acres to come in at 94.3 million, 84.8 million for soybeans, and 44.9 million acres for wheat.

“Big surprise,” Allendale Broker Nathan Cardwell told Agri-Pulse. “The last few reports we’ve had, haven’t had much movement and this definitely caught the market by surprise.”

Last year, farmers planted 89.7 million acres of corn, 76.1 million acres of soybeans, and 45.1 million acres of wheat as producers struggled with wet weather in many parts of the country that forced many to leave their acres unplanted all year. 

Cotton acres are down 1% from last year and USDA estimates 13.7 million acres will be planted.

National Agricultural Statistics Service statisticians conducted the survey the first two weeks of March, so it likely won’t reflect the full impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, University of Missouri Economist Pat Westhoff said the recent drop in corn prices and rise in wheat markets could cause farmers to not plant as much corn as officials and traders originally expected and shift some of those acres to wheat production. He noted the drop in oil prices has dragged down the ethanol market, forcing the industry to cut back on production.

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Cardwell said ethanol had very good production leading up to the pandemic and noted an increase in feed and residual use could offset the lower ethanol demand.

“That also could be another category where we could see more usage as well, which could offset some of the slow demand, whether it be ethanol or exports,” he said.

The department also released the Quarterly Grain Stocks report Tuesday which showed corn, soybeans, and wheat stocks lower from this same time a year ago.

March 1 corn stocks totaled 7.95 billion bushels, an 8% drop from March 2019. Soybean stocks totaled 2.25 billion bushels, down 17% from a year ago; wheat stocks totaled 1.4 billion bushels, which is off 11% from this time last year.

The average trade guess for quarterly wheat stocks was 1.43 billion bushels, 2.24 billion for soybeans, and 8.12 billion for corn.

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