On Saturday, we’re going to dive deeper into the Thursday WASDE report to explore where the USDA goes from here. But Thursday, a key figure slid under the radar, and it’s worth your time.
The USDA sucked all the oxygen out of the room with that massive 7 MMT cut to Argentina’s production. As we noted last week, that cut was much bigger than the 5.7 MMT back in 2009, and it’s likely a sign of more cuts to come due to ongoing dryness in the region.
Soybean prices held on Thursday in part due to the smaller-than-expected uptick in Brazilian production. Remember that AgRural had projected that Brazilian production might go as high as 117 MMT. Based on such a big crop, those gains would have eaten those Argentine cuts.
But it’s really important that we listen to the boots on the ground. On Thursday, Conab hiked the ongoing soybean harvest to 113.02 MMT. That was just short of last year’s record crop by 1.1 MMT. It was also a 1.46 MMT increase from the agency’s last estimate.
It was dead in line with the 113 MMT stated by the USDA on Thursday.
The question moving forward is how much of these soybeans end up in the ports of China.
Last month, total soybeans into China hit their lowest number since October 2016. Chinese Customs said that the downturn was due to the Chinese New Year holiday.
Brazil lits soy harvest forecast, but downgrades corn crop
Conab lifted its estimate for Brazil’s ongoing soybean harvest, even while acknowledging delays to the harvest – which spurred a downgrade to the forecast for output of safrinha corn, grown as a follow-on crop.
The official agriculture bureau raised by 1.46m tonnes to 113.02m tonnes its forecast for Brazilian soybean production in 2017-18, taking the forecast within 1.1m tonnes of last season’s record high.
The revision reflected in the main an increased estimate for the soybean yield, upgraded by 0.04 tonnes per hectare to 3.225 tonnes per hectare, with estimates lifted for a range of growing states.
These included Mato Grosso, the top producer, where the yield is now seen falling by less than 1% year on year, with Conab reporting that “despite the excess humidity seen in some regions, with occasional reports of loads with damaged product, the state’s yield is considered excellent”.
But bigger improvements were seen in more minor producing states further north, including Piaui, where the harvest forecast was hiked by 300,000 tonnes to 2.10m tonnes as Conab ditched ideas of a 14% drop in yield.
“To date, the climatic regime has been favourable, with well-distributed rains,” Conab said.
“During the crop’ whole development period of the crop,” now in its maturation phase, “there was very low incidence of pests and diseases”, with persistent rains “contributing to expectations of high yields”.
In nearby Bahia, the production forecast was lifted by nearly 200,000 tonnes to 4.95m tonnes, with Conab flagging “favourable climatic conditions”, and crops’ “good health and good vegetative development”, with few reports of pest or disease damage.
Delayed corn sowings
However, the bureau acknowledged the late-running of harvest thanks to wet weather “in practically all producing regions”, with harvest-time rains adding to the delays from a rain-hampered planting period.
Conab highlighted that in Mato Grosso, “rains during the first half of February delayed the soybean harvest, which ended the month with about 70% of area harvested”, adding that the lag had also hampered sowings of second crop, or safrinha, corn, which is typically seeded on land vacated by the soybean harvest.
Indeed, the bureau cut by 520,000 tonnes, to 25.69m tonnes, its forecast for safrinha crop output in Mato Grosso, the biggest producer, saying that while the wet weather was encouraging farmers to keep planting, more crop than usual would be seeded outside the idea window.
By the end of February, and the end of the ideal planting window, 20% of crop had yet to be planted, with weak prices expected to cut farmers’ use of inputs such as fertilizers too.
‘Drop dead date’
The overall safrinha harvest was pegged at 62.16m tonnes, a downgrade of 1.10m tonnes on last month’s estimate, and a drop of 5.22m tonnes year on year.
Including the first corn crop currently being harvested, Brazil’s overall production of the grain in 2017-18 was estimated at 87.28m tonnes, a downgrade of 728,000 tonnes, and down 10.56m tonnes year on year.
The comments on late safrinha corn seedings tally with those earlier this week from Dr Michael Cordonnier, the respected analyst, who said that “it has been reported that this year there will be the most ever safrinha corn planted after March 1 in Brazil.
“I would agree with that statement,” particularly in fact for other safrinha corn growing states than Mato Grosso.
“The ‘drop dead’ date for planting safrinha corn in Mato Grosso is about March 10.
In Parana and southern Mato Grosso do Sul, farmers may still try to plant safrinha corn until about March 15.”
The data came hours before the US Department of Agriculture was due to release its monthly Wasde report on world crop supply and demand, for which South American corn and soybean harvest estimates are being particularly anticipated.