Grain markets await USDA survey data

HOW big is the U.S. corn and soybean crop, anyway? That is the question traders will be looking to answer Aug. 12 as the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases its monthly "Crop Production" and "World Agricultural Supply & Demand Estimates" reports.

USDA's August reports are among the first to use actual survey data based on what farmers' crops look like out in the field. Agency analysts could alter yield prospects based on that information, while the market is still wondering just how many acres got planted in the first place.

In its pre-report survey of producers, Farm Futures estimated a corn crop tallying 13.485 billion bu., based on yields of 155.9 bu. per acre nationwide. The cold, wet spring likely cut plantings by more than 1 million acres from last year.

Farm Futures estimated that planted acreage fell to 96.1 million, with harvested acreage down to 86.5 million. USDA estimated 2013 corn acreage at 97.4 million in its June 28 acreage survey, with harvested acreage at 89.1 million.

The magazine's yield estimate is slightly more pessimistic than other private analytical firms: FCStone pegged yields at 157 bu. per acre (a 13.993 billion bu. crop), Lanworth called for 158.5 bu. per acre (13.65 billion bu.) and Doane Advisory Services released a very sunny estimate of 161.2 bu. per acre (a whopping 14.269 billion bu.).

Demand prospects for both old-crop and new-crop corn remain strong, but there are a few bumps in the road. Ethanol demand is a bit of a question again as production has slowed somewhat in recent weeks after reaching annual highs of 885,000 barrels per day in May and June.

Also, imports last week were the largest they've been in seven weeks, so ethanol production as a percentage of ethanol demand has waned over the past three weeks to an annual low of 9.1% for the week ending July 26.

Ethanol production economics have improved this year but remain a challenge, at times, for producers. Green Plains Renewable Energy announced earlier this month that it would temporarily shut down nine of its 10 ethanol plants for maintenance during the next two months, citing tight corn supplies as a concern.

"You time your downtimes in the worst part of the (revenue) curve, and we felt like the end of the crop year was a good place to get our plants ready for harvest," Green Plains chief executive officer Todd Becker told Reuters last week.

What USDA has to say Monday will play a big role in determining how the market looks at current corn supplies — and the prospects for more corn coming to market soon. A recap of the reports and market reaction to them will be available at following the data release at noon (EDT).

Volume:85 Issue:32

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