Column: US corn planting slowest since 2013, yield risks still premature

A combine harvester is seen as it harvests soybeans in Deerfield, Ohio, US, October 7, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. Picture taken October 7, 2021. REUTERS/Dane Rhys – RC225Q9SXZBI

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NAPERVILLE, Ill., April 25 (Reuters) – US corn planting is moving at its slowest pace in nine years, poor timing for threats to the world’s largest corn crop as prices remain near record levels.

Slower-than-normal planting has preceded strong US corn yields in some recent years, but farmers need to avoid falling too far behind over the next three weeks because crops have been far from excellent when planting delays were serious.

The US Department of Agriculture’s statistics service on Monday pegged 7% of the corn crop planted as of Sunday, below trade expectations for 9%. The five-year average is 15%, and 16% was planted on the same date last year.

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Many states have been too cold, too wet or both, and corn is best planted in drier, warmer soils. Only 2% of the corn in top growers Iowa and Illinois was planted as of Sunday, well off the respective averages of 15% and 21%.

The next three weeks are statistically the busiest for US corn planting, though many areas will continue to be slow throughout the next week. Rainfall amounts over the next few days may be favorably below normal across much of the Midwest, but cool temperatures are expected to prevail.

US corn planting typically reaches the halfway point on May 8, though that could be a bit early for full-scale panic if progress is still lagging by then. Planting in 2019 was among the slowest years on record and got worse as May progressed. Chicago corn futures bottomed on May 13 that year before surging 24% to finish the month.

One year earlier in 2018, corn planting was delayed by the second coldest April for the Midwest in records since 1895. But the pace mostly normalized by mid-May as that month turned out to be the Midwest’s warmest ever.

Last week, the US Climate Prediction Center forecast that the Midwest and Northern Plains were more likely to be cooler rather than warmer next month, which could hold back progress. The precipitation bias was mixed across the Corn Belt.

US corn planting progress

YIELDS, PACE

It is still early in the US corn planting campaign and concerns for yield are not yet necessary. However, below average yields have resulted when May 8 progress is 40% or less. Poor yields were the outcome in eight of the 10 years where planting was less than two-thirds complete by May 15.

Summer weather is much more impactful on corn yields than planting date given that delays are not extreme. In 2019, planting was so late that it caused a great deal of high-yielding fields in states like Illinois to sit idle for the summer, which weighed on the national result.

But a few points below average is nothing to worry about. That was the case for much of the 2014 and 2018 planting cycles, and some of the strongest corn yields were observed in those two years.

Faster planting is not always better, either. Warm, dry conditions facilitate quick corn planting, but sometimes that pattern can linger into the summer as was the case in 1988 and 2012, which featured some of the worst-ever US corn crops.

Statistically speaking, US corn planting is less likely to hit the halfway point on its normal May 8 date when efforts are already running late in April, though less than half of the planting seasons end up with more serious delays.

April 24 progress was slower than the 15% average in 23 of the last 42 years. Nine of those years ended up at or above average two weeks later, and another four were below normal by five percentage points or less on May 8.

On average, about 37% of the US corn crop is planted between April 25 and May 8. In the last decade, US farmers have planted as much as 53% of their corn in those two weeks, in 2015, and as little as 14 % in 2013.

The last two times US corn planting was slower than 7% on April 24 was 2013 and 1993.

Karen Braun is a market analyst for Reuters. Views expressed are her own.

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Editing by Tom Hogue

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias.

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